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Level 0 Perspective

She cuts me into a thousand beautiful pieces.

Author: DopSillypant

Guild Wars 2 Design Issue

Posted by DopSillypant Tuesday July 24 2012 at 5:29PM
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I am looking gleefully forward to the imminent release of Guild Wars 2 next month. The game simply does so many things “right”, the removal of a subscription fee, the art aesthetic that strikes a balance between excessive surrealism and believability, the open-ended content and new approach to skill usage.
 
I could spend this entire blog entry praising GW2, but that would be highly redundant since there are already plenty of websites and blogs that do just that. Instead, let me share one of the issues that I noticed (and have not seen any real discussion of)
 
The Problem
 
Swarm/Zerg mentality, AKA “Just throw more people at the problem”
 
Any open-world event system or open-world PvP system runs into this problem. When any obstacle presents itself, the instinctive response for any normal person is to throw more people at the problem. This occurs in real life problems pertaining to sports, academia, and business, and just like real-life, this is not a fun or efficient solution (sometimes not a solution at all)
 
 
Why Is That a Problem At All?
 
Below, I will define exactly why this open-ended design is bad for intelligent and fulfilling gameplay through two different perspectives.
 
For Players that Derive Enjoyment out of Contribution towards a Goal
 
The more people used to reach a goal or overcome an obstacle, the less significance any single person had on the overall probability of success. The less significant you are to the process; subconsciously you recognize that you have lesser reason to be part of the process at all. This deters goal-oriented players such as me that derive entertainment from maximizing my contribution towards the goal.
 
For a more tangible explanation, consider the case of a Guild Wars 2 event where 100 people were involved and each contributed 1% towards the goal. If you were to leave the event, that means 99 people now have to accumulate 100%, each person now has to do 1.0101%, that increase is completely irrelevant to the 99 that remains. Your presence, your contribution, was meaningless; you did NOT change the overall outcome.
 
For players that derive enjoyment out of actively contributing towards an overall goal, telling them that their presence was inconsequential deters them from participating at all.
 
For Players that Derive Enjoyment out of the Process towards a Goal
 
I must recognize that many players simply enjoy the experience of being part of a large group, their individual contributions aside; the joy of identifying with a group of single purpose is evident in everything from political parties, sporting events to fan clubs.
 
The swarm design does indeed cater to this type of player, since the more people involved in the event, the more grand and epic the experience feels. This however does not lend itself to “intelligent play” and in my view is a backwards step in game design.
 
Any designed obstacle that can be easier overcome by the addition of more people has one inherent attribute in common - the goal is reached by a straight-line function accumulation of effort. The straight-line function of the goal means that any addition of people can never be detrimental to the success of the event, useless additions may not hasten the process but they will never hinder it.
 
This inherent attribute to swarm design is in opposition of “intelligent play” design. Games that evoke intelligent play cannot accommodate erroneous moves or bad play, wrong moves are punished, and bad play halts progression. Apply this theory to a sports metaphor: a missed basketball shot does not gain the team half a point, mistakes are punished therefore piling terrible players onto the court does not improve your chances at winning. In open-world game events where participation is unlimited, the addition of terrible players DOES improve your chances at winning.

Rockstar Vancouver

Posted by DopSillypant Thursday July 12 2012 at 1:40PM
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The recent shut down of Rockstar's Vancouver studio hits me a little bit harder than other studio closures over the years.

For one thing, I thoroughly enjoyed Rockstar's most recent entry into the Max Payne universe. Max Payne 3 had its share of technical issues and literary inconsistencies, but Rockstar managed to stayed true to the grim atmosphere and emotional dread that carried itself through the previous two Max titles so well. The emotional dread that I like to describe as "half a mind in the grave of despair and insanity, while the other half floated away on alcohol and painkillers" Cheesy, but it works for me, I don't see Max as a realistic, rounded character but rather a psychopath with a righteous streak.

The studio closure also hits me harder than usual because it hits close to home, in a very literal sense. I live in Vancouver and have been delighted to see the technology & gaming scene grow over the years. This feels like a major step backwards for Vancouver's gaming scene and I hope it does not become a trend.

Toxic MMO players and how to deal with them

Posted by DopSillypant Monday July 2 2012 at 4:39PM
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Tera has been my game of choice lately, and it takes less than a few minutes of reading the in-game general chat to get the overwhelming urge to turn it off.  Online communities are not known for their civility, gaming or otherwise, and there has been a severe lack of creativity in purging this toxin.
In a channel of hundreds of players, it only takes less than a handful of attention-starved loudmouths to ruin any chance of real conversation.  Annoyed players such as me have the option of
  • Turning off the channel completely, eliminating ALL possibility of public conversation
  • Manually place the offenders on my personal ignore list
The first choice reeks of undesirability.  No one should have to cut themselves off from hundreds of otherwise friendly players due to a select toxic few.  A MMO is “massive” after all and the online chatter is a significant contributor to that atmosphere.
 
The second choice of ignore listing yields preferred results but is extremely inefficient in scaling.  Let us imagine a channel of 1000 players, 1 toxic player joins, 1000 players add him to their personal ignore lists, 1000 actions performed for the sake of one.  For every new toxic player that joins, 1000 more actions have to be performed, if 1% of 1000 players are toxic that’s close to 10,000 aggregate actions to ignore those 10.
 
 
I propose the following method
  • “Silence Lists”, bound to the offender’s account, not the offended.  In essence this is a list of people who wish the offender be silenced, a negative petition that exists on each and every player’s account.
  • The offender’s chat messages in any public channel are randomly censored, every 1 person on the offender’s silence list causes 1 word to be replaced by a random animal name, or indeed, any other bag of vocabulary.
 
For example, with this toxic message:
“This game is a piece of crap; I don’t understand why you would pay for this garbage”
 
5 people on the offender’s list would cause his message to become completely comical and non-toxic:
“Mouse game is a cow of crap; I tiger bunny why you would pay for this snake”
 
10 people on his list, well… see for yourself:
“Mouse game horse chicken cow of crap; I tiger bunny why goat monkey pay dog this snake”
 
This method turns a toxic player that was previously ruining the community, into a public jester that amuses and unable to offend (unless you’re an avid animal-hater I suppose)

Tera - Overly Sexualized?

Posted by DopSillypant Friday March 23 2012 at 12:47PM
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The release of Tera is right around the corner, and one of the most discussed issues surrounding Tera has been the sexualized nature of the player models and clothing. One of the greatest risks to Tera is rejection by the North American gaming community due to this subject matter.

North Americans take pride in enlightenment of sexual equality, demeaning acts or speech towards women can result in the loss of money, respect, and employment. When players were exposed to the highly sexualized female clothing designs in Tera, disgust and ridicule poured out in protest against depicting women in such ways. “The armors do not cover enough to be protective,” we said. “Fighting in high heels and lingerie is impractical,” we said. “The women’s figures were impossible,” we said.

Yet for all of this touting of equality, women in North America still make less money than men, still sit at lower levels of the corporate ladder, and are expected to tend to their appearance and figure much more than men are.

The real problem here is not Tera’s depiction of women. The real problem is our delusional sense of sexual equality; Tera smacks us in the face with an overstated, hyperbolic representation of our real sexual dimorphism, and we, believing ourselves to be well past that, are stunned that we are not.

The Power of the Open Mind

Posted by DopSillypant Wednesday March 21 2012 at 6:15PM
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If you read anything on the internet that is remotely related to MMOs, no doubt you have experienced the fanatics, the trolls, and of course the incoherent, oftentimes all neatly packaged into a single person.

What drives much of the flaming and trolling on MMO forums is the close-mindedness of the people. The close-minded fear new ideas that they don't understand, much as young children fear the unknown of darkness. They fear new challenges, because new challenges carry the risk of incompetence and failure.

Some close-minded people are perfectly happy and content with what they've got [insert their current MMO] perfectly willing to stay at their current level of enjoyment because to seek greater levels of fun, to try new games, is to risk dissatisfaction, wasted money, and time.

To have an open mind is to understand that our judgment of a game, no matter how well informed, does not reflect the actual experience, too many variables are involved, too many factors, and too many unknowns, no one is capable of perfectly predicting how they will feel about a game prior to experiencing it.

We don't often see open minded people posting in comments and in the forums, because they understand that they do not have perfect, universal, objective judgment on the topic. No one does.

Taking It Easy with Your MMOs

Posted by DopSillypant Tuesday March 20 2012 at 11:42AM
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Everyone runs into MMO lulls here and there, when old games fall out of favour and new ones are still in development. A large number of players continue with their de facto game regardless of their obvious lack of interest, whether this is by habit, lack of self awareness, or peer factors.

Take it easy with your MMOs, re-evaluate once in a while the reason why you're still playing. Often we get into such schedule and repetition that we fail to notice if we are even having FUN when we log in. If a game stops being fun, leave. The unsubscribe button doesn't bite your head off, regardless of what the companies tell you.

SWTOR Side-Quests / Side-Missions

Posted by DopSillypant Wednesday January 4 2012 at 8:03PM
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Been playing The Old Republic lately, and I find myself strangely attached to the side missions in SWTOR.

 
In any other MMO, side-quests that become irrelevant as I level up, gets abandoned almost instantly. As I hesitated my mouse over the “abandon mission” button in SWTOR, I pondered what it is about the game that makes me reluctant to throw away these inconsequential missions.
 

The only thing that comes to mind is the voice-overs involved in even the most irrelevant of NPCs. The simple detail of the NPC “vocally asking” me for help, strikes a small but noticeable note in my head that - Hey, this NPC is a character, a character with a purpose and goal and not a blank-faced mannequin that demands 10 dead rats (or space rats, in the case of SWTOR) That if I abandoned his mission, this virtual mash of polygons and textures and vocal acting would somehow BE IN TROUBLE OR SOMETHING.
 
 
 
 

Loot Overwhelming

Posted by DopSillypant Tuesday December 13 2011 at 12:11AM
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Eeep.

Unlikely that MMOs environments can ever get as interactive and "bountiful" as this, since the first player who comes here will simply loot everything in sight, and endlessly respawning items will create problems in item value and economy.

Here's to hoping though!

Skyrimming - Hoarding Habit from MMOs

Posted by DopSillypant Thursday December 8 2011 at 3:17AM
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(For your fancy display pleasure, weapon racks!)

Found myself collecting all sorts of weapons and armor in Skyrim that I have no reason of keeping. Funny how the habit of collecting junk carries over from massively multiplayer games into single player RPGs. I still remember vividly an entire vault full of crafting ingredients and old gear in my past MMOs.

(Mannequins! Bonus points for identifying the two sets of armor on display!)

Designers at Bethesda are clever enough to further enable this hoarding habit of gamers, by providing weapon racks, shield racks, and mannequins to play host to all of my neat little sets of gear.

Hurray to the organized RPG hoarders! Those of us that like to collect but still keep a somewhat structured house of loot! If you haven't seen the other side of the coin (room-fulls of hundreds of cabbages, troll skulls, random weapons), look up "Skyrim cabbage" or "Skyrim hoarding" on YouTube and be entertained!
 
 
(Mandatory Lydia shot)
 
reason of keeping. Funny how the habit of collecting junk carries over from 
 
massively multiplayer games into single player RPGs. I still remember vividly 
 
an entire vault full of crafting ingredients and old gear in my past MMOs.
 
Designers at Bethesda are clever enough to further enable this hoarding habit 
 
of gamers, by providing weapon racks, shield racks, and mannequins to play host 
 
to all of my neat little sets of gear.
 
Hurray to the organized RPG hoarders! Those of us that like to collect but 
 
still keep a somewhat structured house of loot! If you haven't seen the other 
 
side of the coin (room-fulls of hundreds of cabbages, troll skulls, random 
 
weapons), look up "Skyrim cabbage" or "Skyrim hoarding" on YouTube and be 
 
entertained!

Sky-High Expectations

Posted by DopSillypant Friday October 28 2011 at 5:27PM
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Seems every year MMO enthusiasts have something new and ground-breaking to look forward to. At the same time, we continue to be disappointed by the MMOs that do get released. What’s the big deal?

Is this a vicious cycle of marketing overhype resulting in unrealistic player expectations? Or is the MMO industry truly stagnating in its product offerings and innovations? I for one believe players are simply expecting and demanding too much, both in terms of amount of content and the level of polish. MMO features and content volume have ballooned to a point where developers cannot be successful in every dimension, and the bubble will have to pop eventually.

One thing we can already see is a push for studios to differentiate their games but at the same time stay familiar to players. We’re seeing a much more diverse mix of settings, such as sci-fi with Star Wars, modern supernatural with The Secret World, space western with Wildstar, martial arts fantasy with Blade & Soul, and of course the good old sword & magic fantasy with the likes of Guild Wars 2 and Tera.