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Armchair Philosophy

Random thoughts about gaming, both online and offline.

Author: Eindrachen

The Little Game Engines That Can

Posted by Eindrachen Thursday May 14 2009 at 6:56AM
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Lately, one issue that seems to come up frequently is the topic of a game's engine, specifically the graphics of such.  MMO gamers tend to love gorgeous outdoor vistas, and seem to think poorly of those games that don't match specific artistic criteria for them.  The common line goes, "I want my game to look pretty, damnit."

Which is a truly silly thing to say.  I'm sure some people could care less about graphics, and they probably play MUDs anyway, invalidating their inclusion to the argument.  When we start moving into the realm of personal choice, we can't start holding it over people if they actually like Super Mario Bros. on the old-school NES.  Hell, that's considered the mark of a truly classy gamer, in many circles.

But I digress.

To say that someone playing current generation MMOs doesn't love good graphics is contrary.  We probably wouldn't play current generation MMOs at all if not for the fact we can see what is going on in the game in pretty colors and shapes pleasing to the eye.

What these silly people don't consider is that a choice has to be made at some point: do you want quality or quantity?  Let me explain.

Everquest 2 is one of the finest games I have played.  The design philosophy of the crafting system makes it one of the most compelling things about that game, and if I could ship that crafting system wholesale into anything else, I'd do it in a heartbeat.  The classes are a little too numerous for my tastes, but the racial options are very satisfying.  Hell, the character creation portion is amazing; the different eye and skin colors for every race gives a whole lot of options that you just don't find in most other games, except for things like City of Heroes.  The UI is customizable without needing you to reprogram it, which was amazingly awesome to me when I first played it.

So why am I not playing it?  Because that game engine is tough on a computer, folks.  If you have a strong machine with good tech in it, and the skills to make the settings come through, yes, the graphics are amazing.  But there is a hell of a lot of slowdown even then, and more if you are short on either the hardware or personal skills end.  That's why a lot of folks do not play it: they can not, at this time, afford a stronger PC, and probably feel (like me) that if you paid money for the thing, you shouldn't have to reprogram it to make it run at least decently, if not well.

It is this particular thing that, in my opinion, cause WOW to do so well.  The game isn't technically advanced at all.  Hell, any MMO veteran can see, they simplified things in nearly every way.  But the game runs, you see?  I have a Dell PC I bought about 5 years ago, and stuck a GeForce 5500 card into, and it still freaking works for WOW.  Few MMOs that have come out then or since can possibly claim the same thing.  CoH ran well, too, and was also a good game for a while to me (I just didn't have many folks I knew playing it).

When every crap computer in the world can run a game, and only a certain level of tech can run another game, it is purely natural that the first game becomes a bigger sell.  I mean, honestly, why not?

And after you get into more sales of a game, you get to the big thing about MMOs, which is how big their community is.  Despite what some may say, size most definitely matters to an MMO.  It equals income, which equals the size of the staff running the game, which affects quality of product.  While Blizzard is routinely accused of bad customer pratices, they get fewer complaints than Sony with a larger customer base by far.  To me, this speaks volumes about the calculable balance betwen quality and quantity.

This doesn't mean I think every game needs to lower standards and compete with more successful games of lower quality.  Darkfall raised the bar on PVP-oriented games such as Guild Wars and such, and seems headed to be one of the more successful MMOs out there today.  But it is important to consider that the more quality in a game, the more quality of hardware needed to run it, which affects a lot of other issues in whether or not a game is a success.

Every gamer has to determine the level of quality over quantity they want, and then find the game that will give what they expect.  Hopefully, they won't begrudge the rest of us if we choose differently, and support the idea of an MMO tailor-made to every taste.  Even if they do, it doesn't change the that sometimes, we can put up with a little graphical roughness in exchange for better gameplay.

MMORPG.com writes:
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