• Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity
  • Far Beyond My Capacity

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth.

1 comment
Running through Mistmoore Castle in EQ2 with my bro for the first time this week made me realise how easy modern MMOs have become. I'd never been to Mistmoore before, and running through the Soulfire epic quest with Voltaan took us there. It was a real blast. The zone is an epic zone, and as there were just two of us running through the on-level encounters I was actually presented with my first really challenging battles since I started playing EQ2 again. The mob density, abilities and toughness of the vampires inside the castle meant we had quite a few close calls and the odd wipe as well. It was the first time I felt challenged by the game content in EQ2 in 70 levels. I loved it!

It reminded me of the times my wife and I would play EQ2 together and deliberately set ourselves challenges, such as duoing Emperor Fyst who was an on-level epicx2 mob at the time. The fight required careful planning and good skill to beat, but the feeling on beating him was great.

Back when I first played the original Everquest the content was tough. Character death was not uncommon, and the penalties for dying really made you think about encounters and even about how to best to travel across zones. When you died you left behind a corpse with all your belongings on it, requiring you to run, naked, back to your corpse to get all your hard earned gear back. Of course, your corpse was probably under the claws of the beast that had killed you in the first place! Not only that, but each death was accompanied by loss of experience, and you could even lose levels (I know one person who fell asleep whilst their character got locked in a death cycle and they lost 9 character levels!). The risk associated with losing all your equipment made adventuring a dangerous endeavour, encouraging social play rather than soloing all the time.

WoW - Easy Mode
That was probably too harsh by today's standards, but things have gone too far the other way in my opinion. Now if I want to get somewhere I just set off running and ninety-nine percent of the time I will get to my destination safely, even if running through hordes of nasty aggro mobs. If I do happen to die there is virtually no penalty (a couple of gold pieces for repairs) other than a few minutes lost time.

Whilst playing Age of Conan I was level 25 before my first character death, which I managed by accidentally running off a cliff. There was virtually no penalty, just a small debuff that lasted 30 minutes.

In Lord of the Rings Online you could actually achieve titles for your character by avoiding death for 20 levels. Not only was this easy to manage, it also encouraged safe play, with players taking few risks. Again the death penalty was a small repair bill.

Why is it that most modern MMOs are now so easy that a character death is almost completely inconsequential? What can be done to increase the challenge?

EQ2 - Hard(er) Mode
Developers of new games can of course address this problem in several ways. As well as altering mob density and aggro range, they can change their toughness, AI and combat abilities. These solutions do not necessarily address the core of the problem however. Challenge is about more than tough enemies, it is about environment, puzzles and the balance of risk.

I think it is unlikely we will see a return to the days of the Everquest balance of challenge, penalty and risk. Love it or loathe it World of Warcraft has set the standard mechanics for any MMO that wants to gain a large subscriber base, and the switch to a very challenging high-risk low-reward game system will drive away a large proportion of the potential player-base.

Therefore I believe the best way to increase the challenge lies in giving the players the tools to set challenges for themselves. The relatively recent appearance of Hard Mode dungeons and raids is one good example. I think it is also up to players to take some responsibility and set their own challenges - play on a PVP server, take on over-level content and set yourself challenges to make the game more interesting. Giving the players options and choice will allow those of us who like a challenge to find the content we like.

Everquest - Bloody Nightmare Mode!
I'm going to sign off with an extract from a post made by Damion Schubert (game designer on Star Wars The Old Republic) on his blog back in 2007. He makes some interesting points, some of which I don't agree with, but I hope some of his ideas make it into SWTOR. He has already stated that SWTOR is designed so that the players will suffer defeat more than in most modern MMOs. His approach seems to be in setting challenge and risks through choice and reward, rather than making death penalties too harsh - it will be interesting to see if the player community likes this approach or not.

Damion Schubert wrote:
  • High death penalties lead to players boring themselves to death. One commenter in the Vanguard thread said that casual players should stop trying to take chances, and instead grind on easy monsters. As game designers, you should be encouraging players to fight oranges, not greens! If fights are close, players are forced to use tactics and occasionally risk death. If the risk of death is too high, players will avoid it at all costs, resulting in them killing creatures who will never get them below 50% health, up until the moment they hang themselves on their own mouse cable to escape the utter tedium.
  • Games should encourage taking chances. We play games because we can experiment, and try things we’d never do in real life. You should feel okay building a radically experimental character build. You should not be afraid of trying a wacky strategy that has one shot in a thousand of working. You should be able to have a Leeroy moment.
  • Lighter death penalties allow the designer to make the game harder. If failure doesn’t cause the customers to quit, designers can feel free to make challenges that are more difficult, and require more teamwork to pull off.
  • There is no reload button. If you believe that death isn’t penalizing enough in WoW, you must also by extension believe that death isn’t penalizing in every single player game ever played — thanks to the handy ‘reload’ option that those games have. And yet, people still strongly want to avoid death in those.
  • High death penalties strongly discourage pickup groups and by extension, are bad for building community. Really - do you want to take a chance on an unproven cleric when it could cost you a week’s playing time?
  • Casual gamers have a much lower tolerance for stupid death penalties. It’s possible to claim that WoW has spoiled them forever. That’s tough, this is the market we’re in now. In retrospect, it’s shocking it took so long to get there.
  • Hardcore features should be optional. WoW’s just not hardcore on the surface. Tell me this isn’t hardcore. (On my server, at least, no one’s beaten Hyjal yet - I’m not sure they have anywhere). Diablo II had Hardcore mode, but you didn’t have to play it. Hardcore gameplay should never be on your critical gameplay path, unless you are content with having no casual audience.
  • High death penalties really conflict with PvP High death penalties only work if you are guaranteeing the player will win 99.9% of the time. PvP penalties result in death for the player’s approximately 50% of the time. Or more, if you suck. Note: the players that suck do not end up sticking around if they take 10 steps back every gankage.
  • If you disagree with me, you should really ask yourself why you so clearly hate players and that ‘fun’ concept, and if game design is really something you should be dabbling in. Not that I feel strongly on the idea, mind you.
For those wondering, the title of this post is a reference to the famous quote from Noela Evans (author of Meditations for the Passages and Celebrations of Life)...

“Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth. Tame the dragon and the gift is yours."

Edit: Further discussion on challenge, death penalties and information on how they relate to SWTOR specifically can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. It really is easy mode in EQ2. Part of the problem is that they seem to dabble with the combat mechanics and stats whenever they bring an expension out, so the next expansions equipment is way and above what was previously available, not just making stuff from the earlier released content (even if 'on level')easier, but it actually makes it completely trivial for the most part. I can say the new expansions (as much as I dislike it) on first release (they have dumbed it down a bit since) was actually quite a challenge at points. But I think they have nerfed and fiddled since then.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...