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Freedom from Hunger

I am currently playing through a rougelike called “Wasted,” and the experience has been interesting. It is an Adult Swim Game that I believe came in a Humble Monthly Bundle or something, as I don’t remember purchasing it. The premise is very non-serious – think Borderlands rougelike with permadeath – but that’s not particularly relevant. What’s relevant is the addition of the SOB Purifiers.

The general gameplay in Wasted pretty common in terms of opening doors, killing enemies, avoiding traps, grabbing loot. After about two minutes on each floor though, an extremely deadly (albeit predictable) enemy spawns at the entrance and slowly makes it way towards you. The first few times I encountered these SOBs, I very nearly quit playing the game entirely. Why do they need to exist? How much bullshit is it that their miniguns basically stunlock you? The SOBs seem to have sucked all the fun out of exploring the levels.

After a while, I realized something. Namely, that I wasn’t experiencing Fallout-esque burnout.

As the developer has gone through great lengths to point out in the Steam forums (even getting a bit saucy in the process), the Purifiers exist as a gameplay element to shepherd the player around and drive them forward. You aren’t supposed to be exploring, you should be making some strategic gambles on your way to the exit. If I had all the time in the world, I would be fully healed before opening any door, spending 99% of the gameplay crouch-sneaking, and micromanaging an incredibly-limited inventory with the attention of Warren Buffet. In other words, I’d be playing it just like I play every other post-apocalypse game. Or most games, period, if I’m honest.

Other roguelikes have addressed the “problem” of over-exploring characters with Hunger mechanics and the like, but the Purifier feels really interesting to me now. Mechanics like Hunger don’t actually impact my behavior in those games; if anything, it just makes me more committed to looting all the things in the vain hope that there is some half-rotten morsel in that broken filing cabinet. Hunger also evokes that most-hated of all gameplay mechanics: the Breath meter in underwater levels. It feels oppressive, cheap.

After I got over the first few bullshit deaths to Purifiers that nullified hours of progression, I started to realize how… well, elegant is not the term, but perhaps “fair” they are. The Purifiers always spawn in the same location (the entrance to the floor you started on), after roughly the same amount of time, and always move towards your location decently slowly. If you happen to be in a circular sort of area, you can lure them to your location and then double-back behind them. Yeah, getting caught in a long hallway or dead-end sucks, but the Purifier’s arrival is announced both when they spawn and as they get closer to your location (the music changes).

In a real sense, Purifiers give you a sense of agency that Hunger does not. If I hit a fork early in a level, I might skip the locked door (which the exit is never behind) so as to give myself more time to explore a later fork. Or maybe I’ll lay some traps near the entrance to the level so that the Purifier spawns in a mine field that will hopefully cripple a leg and give me additional time. And, hey, even if I just barely escape through the exit at the last possible second, I know that I still get a full X minutes to explore the next floor without having to worry about them. That is a far cry different than Hunger or whatever, which often represents a cumulative loss of time.

For the record, I am taking this mechanic way more seriously than the game does. Indeed, the premise of the game is drinking Booze and getting radioactive hangovers that will help/hurt your next Booze run. But the problem that Wasted solves with Purifiers is a problem that exists in every roguelike (and arguably any survival game), and it’s the best solution I’ve seen in quite some time. I’m not sure it would be especially applicable in future games ala Fallout 5, but I hope the eventual solution is more akin to this than something else.

I don’t think I can stand the freedom to collect 10,000 tin cans anymore.

Subtraction Through Addition

One of the new features in Clash Royale are “Tournaments.” Indeed, Supercell believes Tournaments are so important as to rearrange the entire app UI around to feature them prominently. Which is wierd, consider Tournaments are about the most poorly designed thing I’ve seen in any game.

Just imagine this x100.

Even the premise is dumb. At the lowest level, someone offers to pay 500 gems to “host” a 50-man “local” tournament, 49 people join for free, and in this pool everyone plays as many games as possible within the allotted time. The winner of the tournament – which would ideally be the person who started it – will always get less cards than they would have otherwise by spending the gems in the shop. Perhaps the joy of creating all this free content for people should suffice, but I don’t anticipate this lasting long. Especially given the fact Supercell introduced a one-time achievement refunding the cost of the lowest-level tournament. Once that dries up… then what?

Part of the design of the tournaments was to reduce the ping issues by concentrating players in closer geographic regions. Which is okay, I guess. But how is that really a solution at all? The tournaments can last for X amount of time (hours or days), but you are of course limited to just the pool of players in the tournament. I haven’t had an issue finding games once in a tournament, but I don’t see how it is effective for, you know, everyone else.

And don’t even get me started on actually getting into these tournaments. There is a “search” interface that essentially brings up around 10 tournaments, and invariably they all show 50/50. Sprinkled throughout are 49/50 that get your hopes up for a second, before a series of rapid Join presses revealed that they are full. Hell, I saw a 1/200 tournament appear and apparently fill in the time it took my thumb to move half an inch. What moron designer thought this was a good design? Were these not play tested at all? Was there a particular reason why they did not include a “join next available tournament with X criteria” function?

Like I mentioned, I did indeed manage to get into one of the tournaments by some stroke of luck. And it was… okay. I do appreciate the idea that it uses a different ranking system than the outside game, so you are free to experiment more. Plus, since tournament rules are in effect, all the cards are more balanced – no more cheese like someone dropping a level 11 Royal Giant on your lane and calling it a day.

That said, the tournament absolutely encourages you to spam games. Your ranking is determined by trophies, and since you can take them from anybody, that means someone trying to sit on 1st place will soon find themselves slipping down if they don’t keep up. Which, I suppose is better than the alternative, unless you happen to be the highly ranked. For me, I got inside the top 10 after about four games and just sat on my rank with the knowledge that I either had to claw my way to 3rd+, or be fine with 8-10 free cards depending on how many people occilated. Iroically, as I stared at the screen deciding my next move, I actually gained a rank from someone else above me losing a game.

In any case, I find the tournament feature to be an overall net negative for a game in which my interest is already waning. My range in the regular ladder seems to fluctuate between 2800-3000, which means every win is an absolute struggle. Or would be, if I didn’t face people with the previously mentioned level 11 Royal Giants. Which, I guess, is the ladder system working as intended. But it is work, and sometimes ends up taking 30 minutes to get enough chests to last the entire day, even on vacation.

“So stop playing.”

Yeah, it might end up coming to that. Especially since Supercell seems inclined to make no changes to that godddamn Ice Wizard or the Royal Giant.

On Trolling

Two years ago, I talked about countering toxicity via intentional game design. The example was Hearthstone, which continues to be relatively accessible and innocuous. Blizzard accomplished this by limiting non-friend player interaction to a handful of emotes. Granted, a whole new implicit language of BM (bad manners) has developed in the meantime, but there is both a timer attached to the emotes and, crucially, the ability to disable them from your opponent.

I bring this up for two reasons.

The first is that Supercell finally came out and addressed the rampant trolling emote spam that takes place in Clash Royale. And by rampant, I mean I get surprised when I do not see gloating emotes during a game. Supercell’s response? Trolling helps their bottom line:

The same principle – evoking strong emotions – is at the heart of why we’re not planning to implement a mute option. Emotes are loved by some and hated by others – even within the Clash Royale team! We believe these strong emotions are integral to the core of the game.

Clash Royale is not a single player game and shouldn’t feel like one. Emotes are an important reminder that you’re facing another human being – maybe they’re a nice guy, maybe they’re not – but there’s a person at the other end of the Arena and not a robot. You can communicate with them and they can respond, regardless of language or cultural barriers.

Given advancements in AI, it’s possible we’re already playing against robots.

Now, Supercell didn’t come out and say that this helps their bottom line, but… it does. Get spammed with emotes, get tilted, lose, then you buy a bunch of gems to unlock more shit. Or win against impossible odds, feel good, buy some gems. It’s all the same. Which is fine, whatever. But I still fail to see how adding the option, buried in the menus somewhere, to mute emotes automatically isn’t possible or would affect one goddamn thing other than the trolls.

The second reason I brought up Hearthstone is because, as I’ve mentioned before, Overwatch makes me salty. And what makes it worse is the direct communication feature between teams. Again, what possible good exists in letting Team A talk to Team B? Because what I mostly see is stuff like this:

Overwatch_Trolling

Absolutely useful features.

Honestly, this is downright mild in comparison to the “die in a fire” and worse from the earlier days of gaming. Or probably current days of gaming if you’re a woman and have a microphone.

But the more time passes, the less value I see in having much in the way of communication at all in these sort of games. In MMOs? Yes, of course, there is a need to build social bonds and such. Nobody is building anything with emotes in Clash Royale other than ulcers and kidney stones. Nor with chatting in Overwatch, really. So… why have them in these games? Habit alone?

Unless, of course, your business model is based on exploitative psychology.

Vanilla Challenge: Levels 1-5

And so it begins.

To start with, let me just confirm that the process of pirating Blizzard’s IP by joining a private vanilla server is remarkably easy. I posted the instructions elsewhere, but the steps I followed were:

  1. Find website.
  2. Click the torrent link they helpfully provide.
  3. Wait for 5GB torrent to download.
  4. Create an account on a linked website in the meantime.
  5. Copy & Paste 1 line of text in the Realm.wtf file.
  6. Double-click the WoW icon.

That’s it. There isn’t even an “installation” of vanilla WoW; the torrent has the folders already unpacked for you. So when people were stating that private servers are easier than getting into retail WoW, they were correct.

All that set up, I was in.

VanillaWoW_01

Someone apparently took my name already.

I went with a human paladin because that seems to be the experience that most people can relate to. Plus, if I recall correctly from my TBC experience, the Dwarven starting area is even worse in terms of running around aimlessly. Maybe some other time. Probably not.

The general paladin experience was pretty much as bad as I remembered. You start with two buttons: Seal of Righteousness and Holy Light. Combat consists of casting Seal and auto-attacking. For around 12-28 seconds. Per mob. I’m not joking:

For the full vanilla experience, you should watch the entire video. It’s exactly like playing!

Aside from the Time-To-Kill metrics and general pants-on-head asinine class design, I was also struck by smaller design issues that were blasts from the past. For example, the first quest you get is to kill Kobold Vermin behind the church. The steady stream of new players/alts ensured a general sort of Kobold holocaust, but it wasn’t until about the third dead Kobold that I realized I was killing the wrong ones. There were, in fact, three different layers of Kobolds: Vermin, Workers, and Laborers. Not to be racist, but they kinda all looked the same.

The other issue was boomerang quests, which is perhaps one of the more annoying quest designs in gaming to me. Specifically, a quest giver asking you to go to an area to kill mobs, then asking you to go back to the same area again and killing mobs slightly further in, and so on. The “Christmas tree” effect (getting to a new quest area and seeing dozens of “?”s) is kind of the result of bypassing the boomerang, but it is a far preferable state of affairs, IMO.

VanillaWoW_02

Also super important.

Then again, there weren’t any Christmas trees in vanilla or a portion of TBC, as quest givers did not appear on the minimap unless you were ready to turn something in. Indeed, that was my first exposure to absurd design Luddittes – post after post in the TBC forums crying about how much the game is diminished by having quests show up in the minimap. But I digress.

Upon hitting level 3, I decided to travel over to the dreaded Defias Vineyard. This was WoW’s “The Butcher” experience, introducing millions of players to a hostile, uncaring universe of pain and suffering in the form of rapidly respawning, high aggro-radius having mobs. The Vineyard was as advertised: hostile and uncaring. Well… mostly.

(Video starting from 6:06 from the prior one.)

I was invited to a group by a warlock who was also hunting for Defias bandannas and we aggroed in tandem for quite some time. Having been a solo player for so long, I almost felt uncomfortable being “confined” to a group, as if we were sitting next to each other on a bus with plenty of empty seats. Anyway, he DoT’d the enemies up, and I uselessly auto-attacked and tried to keep aggro. There were always other people running around the area, being chased by their gray-tagged mobs and occasionally stealing our own. It made me think about MMOs like GW2 where anyone can help anyone at any time, and still get credit for kills and the like even if you just dealt one blow. There is more cooperation there, but less socialization.

Not that I and the warlock talked much anyway.

Turning in the bandanna quest unlocked two more quests that required going to the exact same area and, by consequence, killing the same mobs. Classic boomerang. One of the quest mobs was named, but I don’t believe he was marked as an Elite or anything. Still, three mobs at once is a bit tough to handle when it takes you 20 seconds of auto-attacking to bring down a single dude, so I started inviting everyone who showed up near the mob respawn. There were three of us, and two more sauntered in, not accepting my invite. They ended up stealing the tag right from under us, because of course they did. Three to four minutes later, we collected four heads from one body and I dinged level 5.

Total time played: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

VanillaWoW_03

—————

For the sake of science and amusement, I went ahead and rolled another human paladin, this time via the F2P Starter account in retail WoW. The differences, as you might imagine, are quite stark:

Time-to-Kill is sometimes 0.0 seconds, with mobs dying in the press of Crusader Strike and simultaneous melee auto-attack. Crusader Strike’s cooldown is 4.5 seconds, so we can just say 0-4.5 seconds TTK. And do note that I did not have any heirlooms or anything of the sort – the Starter account is not associated with my actual (lapsed) account at all.

The Defias are gone from the Vineyard, which is now aflame and overrun by orcs. It still teaches new players about aggro mobs, but there is essentially zero danger when mobs die in 2-3 hits. There was a quest to kill a specific named orc ala X, but he too went down in a manner that makes you question the robustness of the Horde’s espionage program.

Experiencing this new paradigm for the first time in years, sans the heirlooms which I had hitherto believed caused it, I am willing to make some concessions.

Nils has described the vanilla way as giving players the time and opportunity to keep their mind busy without actually being busy. I think I can appreciate this sentiment now, but not quite for the same reason as he. When it takes 20+ seconds to kill a mob, you are pretty much forced to “settle in” to an area. It will, after all, be where you will be questing for the next 10+ minutes. There is ample time to smell the roses, as you conspicuously not press buttons.

Conversely, when you are all but one-shotting mobs in retail, you are on the fast track. Move to blue area, kill 10 mobs, run back. Your focus is on the UI rather than the screen because that’s all you have time for. Pushing buttons is still always better than not pushing buttons, in my opinion, but you can’t exactly just stretch out the TTK numbers and insert button presses in all the empty beats. Which, now that I think about it, might be why I didn’t exactly enjoy the FF14 or Wildstar gameplay experience.

In any case, I hit level 5 with 15 minutes /played.

The funny/sad thing is that the speed is both too fast and not fast enough. If leveling is easy because the designers want more people to be in the current expansion endgame, well… put people in the current expansion endgame. The first couple of zones in every expansion are more or less tutorial zones for returning players already, so it should accommodate re-rollers just fine. Conversely, if the leveling still exists as some kind of nod to new WoW players or nostalgia junkies, it’s much too fast to satisfy anyone.

This split baby needs thrown out with the bathwater.

—————

The challenge continues. I have little to no interest actually hitting 60 in vanilla, especially given the number of hours it supposedly takes, but I will play for a while longer. My next goal is to unlock the talent system, which traditionally started at 10, I believe. Can’t wait to start unlocking +2% damage for the next dozen levels thereafter.

Accretion

There is a gaming phenomenon I have been experiencing a lot lately that sorely needs a term to describe it. The effect itself is this: the older a game gets, the less space exists for the “skill middle class,” and the less the developers seem to care about catering to said group.

Tobold has experienced this recently too:

I discovered a nice game called Cabals, which combines trading card elements with a tactical board game. But unfortunately the game was released 5 years ago in 2011. So not a lot of people are still playing, and those who do have collected cards for years. So every time I start a PvP game, first I’m waiting for a long time for an opponent, and then that opponent is far, far more powerful than I am.

And here is how I described it in a roundabout way back in 2014:

I have played a grand total of about an hour of TF2, which was long enough for me to realize I have little interest in diving into seven years of accumulated competitive minutia; learning the maps, the weapons, the classes, and strategies of each while playing against hardened veterans isn’t exactly my idea of fun.

There are a few different ways this phenomenon manifests itself. The first type is how I described Team Fortress 2 above – there being simply so many additions and considerations added to a game since launch, that it becomes difficult to imagine ever reaching a competent level of play. This isn’t to suggest it’s impossible, just that it would require a level of dedication far in excess of what was needed when the game first came out.

Another version is what I experienced with reinstalling Puzzles & Dragons on my phone: abandonment of any semblance of a newbie experience. P&D is a game about collecting and leveling up monsters, and you have a maximum “Cost Size” when constructing your team; the more powerful the monster, the higher it’s Cost. Your Cost capacity starts off low and gradually increases as you Rank up. When starting a new account, you get one free pull on the super rare monster slot machine.

Do you see where this is going? I’ve “rerolled” P&D a half dozen times, and each time I seem to get a god-level monster… that has a Cost level so far beyond my starting capacity that I’d need to grind for 20+ hours just to use it. These were new monsters added to the game to entice veterans to continue playing (and paying), but it makes a for a truly awful new-player experience as you’re left with the garbage-tier monsters for way too long.

Having a carrot on the end of a stick is good motivation… provided the stick isn’t three miles long.

There is a variation of the P&D situation when it comes to games with DLC. I reinstalled Battlefield 4 recently, for example, and I realized that I’m missing 4-5 pieces of DLC. I’m not going to go back and purchase them now – this game is really just an Overwatch substitute – but this means I’m stuck playing vanilla maps against hardened veterans who have spent the intervening years since release playing these maps thousands of times. And… you know, I already know these maps too. Had I just bought BF4 recently, I would have gotten the edition that included all the DLC, similarly to how GW2 and Destiny provide the base game “for free” these days.

The best time to play a game is always at or near launch. No time else has the greatest range of player skill. You can be better than average and have that mean something. Developers are focused on the new-player experience and encouraging newbies to transition into veterans. Everything is great… minus any bugs, of course.

After time goes by though? Churn rate stays the same but new players start drying up. Veterans accumulate. Designers add things to keep the veterans happy and paying, which makes sense, as they become the plurality (if not majority) of the remaining playerbase. But there is no longer a bridge between the new player and the veteran. The gaming middle class just evaporates.

This is part of the reason why I’m excited about Overwatch. Not necessarily because it’s better than any given FPS, but because it’s a fresh start. Virgin territory. You can be that one-eyed king ruling the blind before all the two-eyed vets show up and ruin your day with their depth perception.

In any case, I’m open to suggestions for the term in general, assuming one doesn’t already exist. I was thinking about “Veteran Accretion,” but that might be a bit too fancy. Endgame Design? Skill Gap? Too Damn Old?

CR: The Prince

Just as a petty “I told you so” per Supercell’s latest patch notes:

Prince: Charge speed decreased by 13%

  • The Prince is currently the most used card in the game, but despite very popular opinion, he isn’t overpowered when looking at his win rates. However, his ability to take down a tower on his own when left unchecked can be quite startling. Slowing down his charge speed a notch will give more time to react and counter.

So, yeah, like I said, the Prince is the most used card in the game.

Now, they say in there that he’s not overpowered when looking at his win rates. Personally, I’d like to know what those win rates actually are. But honestly, that doesn’t really indicate to me that he isn’t overpowered. I’m no longer running my Prince because A) he’s level 1, and B) everyone specifically keeps direct counters to the Prince in their deck. For example, I’m running the Witch, melee Goblins, the Goblin Hut, and can technically toss my Giant Skeleton in front if needed. If I didn’t have to worry about the Prince destroying a tower in 9 seconds by himself, I’d be swapping out at least two of those for more offensive cards.

So, to me, a card that everyone uses is de facto an overpowered card even if the card does not necessarily guarantee a win. Good players take note of the metagame and include counters. It seems obvious said good players with said counters would win more often, bringing down the overall win rate of the most popular card. But the Prince is popular for a reason, and his mere existence suppresses the diversity of the rest of the decks. The Prince is like Hearthstone’s Dr. Boom – he won’t instantly win you the game, but every deck you create has to keep him in mind.

In any case, Supercell seems to have a monthly balance schedule, and I anticipate seeing the Prince nerfed again in April. If not because he is literally overtuned, then because he will continue being the most popular card in the game for his ability to force an answer from your opponent or die.

Spell It Out

I was playing GTA 5 this weekend, and one of the missions really reminded me of why I prefer game devs to just spell out what they expect you to do as a player.

The mission was technically a “side-quest” of a heist the main characters were setting up. This particular branch was to acquire a getaway vehicle, take it to a discreet location, then call Michael and let him know where it is. Not just any vehicle will do, but there are a million carjack opportunities in the game, so it didn’t take long to find one the game was satisfied with.

What did take an annoyingly long amount of time was figuring out A) where a “discreet” area was, and B) phoning the location in. Back alley? Not discreet. Docks? Not discreet. Area marked in green? Whoops, that’s an entirely different mission area. I tried calling Michael half a dozen times, but never got the option to “Mark the Location.” And I never knew whether that was because I wasn’t in a discreet location, or if I was but I had to be outside the vehicle to make the call, or if the quest was just fucking bugged.

There are a lot of challenges I enjoy in gaming. The one challenge type conspicuously absent from the list is being a goddamn mind reader. Or, more specifically, trying to figure out what the designers wanted players to do. Sometimes the issue is that I missed what would otherwise have been an obvious clue. Hey, it happens. Doesn’t change the fact that I’m not going to wander around cluelessly for 15 minutes not playing the game. Give me a puzzle, and I’ll try to solve it. But I’m not going to fucking hunt for the puzzle, because I have zero faith in my ability to divine whether all the proper programming flags were set.

So, I looked the quest up. Turns out they wanted the car in a neighborhood area. Drove there, parked, and the option to Mark the Location came right up. Fantastic. If they could have just dropped some markers down on the map like they do with everything else in the game, I would have been done with this vanilla quest more than 20 minutes ago instead of it completely breaking the flow of my gaming session.

And looking at my experience with MMOs? Same sort of thing applies. I played WoW when it didn’t have quest givers on the minimap, when quest items didn’t sparkle, before addons highlighted quest areas, and when Thottbot was breaking new ground over Allakhazam (I think). You know what? I’ll say it: it sucked. Killing mobs and not knowing whether you were just unlucky with quest drops or if you were killing the wrong specie of bear sucks. Get lost in a cave sucks. The item you need to click on being the basement as you scour the other three floors fruitlessly sucks.

I’m not saying there can’t or shouldn’t be mysteries in a game. But it should never be a mystery that you are in a mystery. The difference between hunting for clues and being clueless is immense. It is the difference between playing a game and not.

Again, I have empathy for the players for whom their primary enjoyment is figuring shit out on their own. I hope there are addons or options for you to turn off all the quest tracking overlays. But if the designers want me to collect ten bear asses to complete a quest, that is my quest, not exploring the taxonomy of virtual Ursidae and/or their habitat. If you want me to stash a car somewhere “discreet,” you either tell me where that is, or allow me to stash it somewhere I think is discreet enough. Which was apparently 100 feet away from where GTA 5 said I couldn’t make the call.

That Old Difficulty Bugbear

Another MMO difficulty discussion has appeared!

Both Keen and Bhagpuss have posts up, with the former talking about being praised for running his healer over to the tank during aggro, and the latter missing:

Having to look around, pay attention, evaluate the situation, review options, compare current circumstances with previous experience. I miss the need to know, in detail, what tools I have in the box and which ones I need to pull out when. Crucially, I miss having the time to do all that and enjoy it.

This discussion is a bit different than the usual “good ole days” ones though. For one thing, Burning Crusade was relevant up into the end of 2008, and I distinctly remember entire heroic dungeon stratagems revolving around face-pulling with the paladin tank and then hiding in a door corner Consecrating and hoping for the best. Wrath shifted things a year later, of course, but the raids brought them back. Then there was Cataclysm for a minute. A minute too long IMO, but nevermind.

Point being, it’s been less than a decade. And potentially zero difference in coordination required, depending on the content you are doing. I’m not sure what the “Unrest Fireplace” deal is, but if it requires 6+ people with crazy pulls and such, that almost sounds raid-ish. Or Challenge Mode-ish. Sure, it might also be “open-world” content, but let’s be serious: there isn’t much difference.

The Bhagpuss angle is also interesting, as he admits that it isn’t a lack of challenge per se, but rather a changing in what the challenge consists of:

Players and developers alike have come to expect overt, clear signals in the form of ground markers, circles, cones, colors and written or spoken instructions. We’ve gone from improvisational theater to an on-book recital with cue-cards and a prompt.

What Bhagpuss misses is the “local knowledge,” which dictated which mobs were easy and which were not, which guards would protect you, where the safest farming spots were, and so on. And… that’s okay, I guess. It is indeed a challenge type that has been entirely supplanted by modern games with mods and Wikis and crowdsourced and datamined knowledge, often weeks before the content even goes Live.

On the other hand… if you had time to improv, was the content really that difficult?

And what does it say about the difficulty itself, if it were dependent on the slow accretion of experience? I do not consider trial and error particularly challenging. Nor memory games, for that matter. Which really just leaves… execution. The eponymous Raid Dance. I don’t know any people who are seriously thrilled about a difficulty that revolves around playing voidzone Guitar Hero for 12 full minutes, but a challenge that can be defeated via YouTube isn’t much of a challenge either, IMO.

There really isn’t one answer here. Everyone wants content tailored to their skill level, which means we all end up wanting different things. I will say though that many MMOs actually do have what Keen and Bhagpuss are probably looking for, in at least token amounts. If you want an entire game revolving around that though, sorry, you are going to have to stick with the niche titles. Because for however many amazing experiences you had, twenty other people died for what seemed like no reason, their group fell apart, and they lost hours of their life.

These days, you will know why you failed: you stood in the fire.

Mandatory Dungeons

During the discussion about FFXIV’s mandatory dungeons, MaximGtB said the following:

[…] Besides, having these dungeons are in no way a road block, at least when looking at it from an MMORPG point of view. If you can’t spend a few hours to clear a dungeon, maybe failing a few times before you finally succeed, then the game is not for you. What are you going to do at 60, then? Log in, do one or two levequests, then log out?

What I mean to say is that spending massive amounts of time, trying stuff for hours on end until you succeed, and/or suffering pants-on-head morons ruining your game are the bread and butter of the game. If you can’t stand it at level 15, you won’t stand it at the endgame either.

Here is my “much too big for a third-tier nested comment” response:

The mandatory dungeon aspect is problematic for several reasons. The first of which is economic: all that telling a player “this game is not for you” accomplishes is losing out on at least another month’s subscription (assuming they bought blind in the first place). Even if the game is not for you, what sense does it make to force the issue right away?

Second, sometimes what a game is changes for people. Maybe that player solos their way to endgame and leaves at that point anyway. Or maybe they intended to solo, but encountered a stranger that befriended them, and sucked them into the vortex of social gaming for 6+ years. Which is precisely what happened to me in WoW. Had I not been primed already though, I would have quit FFXIV at the “spend 20 minutes waiting for a boring dungeon with total noobs” wall. WoW opted for the carrot, not the stick, and thus captures both types of players while converting a special few.

And, bizarrely, FFXIV already has the carrot in terms of first-time completion bonus.

The third reason is because the vast majority of FFXIV (and most MMO) content is solo. Long-term players run the same dungeons for months grinding 0.2% upgrades, yes, but how much solo scripted encounters, quests, writing, world exploring, etc, is there on the way to level cap? All of that is content the solo player could be enjoying, if not for patronizing “ice-breaking” of these designers.

Fourth, it was just damn inconvenient at the time. The day before I actually cleared the dungeons, I wanted to log on and accomplish things, but I was also expecting an important phone call. When I logged on, I realized that I couldn’t really do anything. Grind FATES and get even further ahead of the leveling curve? Re-run the starting areas a half dozen more times leveling up alternate classes? I wanted to progress things, but couldn’t. So I logged out and played actual games that actually let me play them.

Finally, these mandatory dungeons were boring as hell. What kind of first-impression were they going for? They have to be easy for new players, but that’s no excuse for them to have close to zero backstory for a Main Story Quest. Back-loading all the good bits these days is just dumb. Most MMOs are guilty of this for some reason, but most MMOs came out before we as gamers knew any better (or got to experience the higher bar).

Clearly though, FFXIV is successful enough in spite of the way dungeons are handled. I feel like it would likely be more successful had they taken a different approach, but good luck to them.

FFXIV Impressions: Dungeons

A little while ago I got the early dungeon wall that I heard people grumbling about back in the day: a point near level 20 where the Story quest gets gated around running three dungeons in a row. I spent an entire day’s session pushing through it like a particularly difficult bowel movement, with very similar end results.

FFXIV_Dungeon

Somehow they managed to make playing an Arcanist even more boring.

The first two dungeons were not actually that bad. Long, boring slogs through story-less gameplay, but whatever; I’m not sure Wailing Caverns performed much better when I played it six years ago. Then came Copperbell Mines. If I continue playing FFXIV, it will be in spite of my experience in this dungeon.

To be clear, it is not necessarily the dungeon’s fault. I assume Copperbell Mines is just as bland and flavorless as any other dungeon in this game. But within the first two pulls, I realized we were in trouble. The only non-new player was the healer, and it became very clear that 1) the tank had no clue how to hold aggro, and 2) the lancer had no concept of how dungeons or the holy trinity works at all. The lancer spent the entire dungeon running ahead, grabbing aggro, then running away once his HP hit 25%. While no one can expect a tank to completely take control of that, one can reasonably expect the tank to at least have higher aggro than the healer. Which he could not, to literally save his (and everyone else’s) life.

FFXIV has this reputation as a nice, friendly environment for noobs and such, but I feel that it let us down in this case. Friendly suggestions to not be fucking stupid (paraphrasing) did not reach the lancer, who might have been illiterate for all we know. Had this been WoW, either the lancer or tank or both would have been straight-up kicked (assuming no 4-hour timers) for not doing the goddamn jobs they signed up to do, but no no. It is our responsibility – nay, privilege! – to repeatably wipe with the classical stoic grace of British aristocracy. I summoned my tanking pet to at least give the healer an extra 15 seconds of life and largely went down with the ship with a stiff upper lip.

At the end of it, several things were very clear to me then:

  1. There was zero reason why those dungeons were mandatory for the story.
  2. There wasn’t any story to those dungeons at all. No background material, no Dead Mines-esque buildup.
  3. It was yet another “travel across the world three times sequentially” time-sink, after literally just finishing a similar one.
  4. I’m done waiting 15-20 minutes to play a game.
  5. I’m done waiting to play with bad players.

This attitude will, of course, put me at odds with the standard MMO appointment-gaming zeitgeist.

I was also struck with the realization of what FFXIV’s combat reminded me of: Aion. As in, a pretty world with great animation and bizarre old-school throwbacks combined with an awfully boring combat system. Again, I’m an Arcanist, so I’m sure that has something to do with it – Thaumaturge felt more exciting for the little I played of it. At the same time, I view FFXIV allowing me to pick a boring-ass class more of FFXIV’s problem, than my own.

In any case, my free month is up next week, so FFXIV has until then to convince me it has any redeeming factors at all. People keep going on about the story, but I can no longer tell if they mean an actual good story, or a good story in comparison to other MMOs. Either way, it has the aforementioned amount of time to get down to business if Square Enix wants to continue getting my own.

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