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A Collection Of Thoughts On Gaming

Much like shower thoughts, playing certain games brings various thoughts, ideas and criticism to mind. I'll be sharing some of them here and see what happens!

Author: Annwyn

The absurdity of a hundred spellbars

Posted by Annwyn Tuesday October 25 2016 at 3:43PM
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Hello again. Seeing as my previous blog post was viewed 582 times in 5 days (as I'm writing this, which was rather shocking to me), I think it's fair to think that I may have hit the nail on its head with the title of the first one. So I decided to go crazy and write another one. Even more crazy, I decided to try something a little different too on top of the blog post, I made a video where I talk about both this post and also touch on my last blog post as well, albeit not in as many details as these blog posts. You can watch the video here if you want. Quick note however, English is not my first language, so I might butcher some words here and there, but hopefully not badly enough for Shakespeare to turn in his grave. So without further ado, here's my new blog post!

 

The absurdity of a hundred spellbars

This being a website dedicated to MMORPG, I think it's safe to assume that the majority of you have at least played one MMORPG where each classes are given 30-40 different skills and spells. You are given so many in fact, that not only is a single hotbar is not enough, but sometimes even adding a second hotbar does not offer enough slots to place all your skills and spells. More annoying is that it becomes a mess to keybind a total of 36 hotbar slots, so annoying that there is even gaming gear dedicated to helping solve that problem like mouses with 12 buttons on the side that can be used to bind macros or key combinations to cover a whole hotbar.

 

Normally one would think that having more skills simply means that the player has a wider range of playstyles that he can create by combining different skills to his liking in order to create his own personal build, however most MMOs will restrict the players in its playstyle through the use of pre-made classes where newly-learned abilities only serve to enhance the core spells offered by a class. This leaves every classes with roughly 5-6 core skills that are used continuously in combat, while other skills are only useful in specific situations, or some abilities are rendered useless either because their design does not reflect how the class is played, or because of the addition of new content that circumvent those mechanics or spells.

 

So why do we need so many abilities if using our 5-6 core skills is more than sufficient to progress through the game? Some would say that having all these situational abilities adds complexity to the game, but there is no complexity in pressing a 7th key on your keyboard once in a blue moon. A few games have realized and attempted to solve this problem by giving players more choices in how they want to play the game. Rift for example allows players to combine spells from up to 3 different classes in the same archetype to create a more varied playstyle, although the game still suffers from having too many skills and spells cluttering your spellbars "in case you need them". Guild Wars 2 gave players a variety of different weapons that will change how each classes are played by assigning different skills to different weapons, and those skills are dependent on the class you are playing. In other words, while both a Necromancer and a Thief can wield daggers, they will have different dagger-related skills. To top it off, a player can select up to 5 different class spells (I believe 4 class spells +1 healing spell but I may be mistaken) out of a pool of class spells to customize their build even more. The Elder Scroll Online also attempts to offer an alternative by giving players choices that can add to their chosen class. A player can wield any weapon and armor (and use their respective skills) while also having the ability to level up class skills, and some other groups like guild skills, that they want to use to create their own character build. TESO also has a maximum number of spell slots (5) (and another 5 when swapping to your other weapon set).

 

Should all MMORPGs do what Guild Wars 2 or Elder Scrolls Online have? Of course not, but developers need to stop adding more "situational" class skills and spells for the sake of "complexity", and need to start thinking of creating abilities that alters how you as a player can play your chosen class. They need to abandon this idea that a player needs to have 3 full hotbars before they enter a dungeon, and instead focus on giving players choices that matters to fill a single hotbar.

 

I can hear some of you thinking "but Annwyn, regardless of how many different builds and playstyle there is, players will just follow the same 'best' builds as everyone else, so why does it matter?" Yes, you're right, players always move towards the "best builds" out there, but that in itself is not an excuse not to offer players a choice. Even in MMOs with 36 hotbar spells all ready to go, players will rotate towards the "build of the month" as developers release new content where some classes are more efficient than others, or as developers nerf or buff certain skills. There is no escaping that, developers can only continue to tweak the skills in hope of offering a more balanced experience for all playstyles, it is the natural evolution of every multiplayer online games, not just MMOs. But by offering players the choice in how they can create and customize their character, you are improving their overall experience of the game, and by limiting this hotbar insanity, you are not removing complexity, you are merely removing finger gymnastic. Complexity is created through challenging content, not screen clutter.

 

 

Thanks for reading!

The toxicity of questing in MMORPGs today

Posted by Annwyn Thursday October 20 2016 at 6:40PM
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Before the age of downloadable content, Questing appeared in single-player RPGs in 2 forms :

1. The main storyline, typically a complex story carefully woven that will carry the player from the very beginning until the end. There will be plot twists, there will be drama and action, a bit of comedy and more.

2. The side quests/storylines. Many older RPGs would often hide various optional quests throughout the game, these quests would bring great loot, add to the story in some way, bring additional challenges (difficult optional bosses or puzzles). To reveal these "quests", a player would have to talk to various NPCs who would talk to the player about rumors and legends and it was the player's task, should the player decide to take on the challenge, to find and solve the mystery. Taking on a side quest was a choice that could benefit the player, but would not punish him for not taking on the side quests (with some exceptions of course). 

In older RPGs, progression happened naturally as the player would visit new areas, defeat bosses, etc. In some RPGs the player might also have to grind, but unless the goal was to reach level 99, the grind was not mind numbing.

 

Enter subscription-based MMORPGs where the goal is the keep the player active in the game for as long as possible. Progression is slowed down heavily, forcing players to grind for hours on end to gain a single level. This raises a problem however with an aging player base who has less and less time to spend gaming. To keep the player base entertained, developers moved to a different formula, one that allowed players to achieve and be rewarded for completing tasks that can be accomplished rapidly: they focused on questing, and there begins a new problem.

Whether you play FFXIV, WoW, TESO, etc, questing has become practically the principal mean to progress in the game, and with this came many problems that no MMO has managed to solve.

1. MMO Developers applied the formula of Questing from Single-Player RPGs, where the player is the hero, to MMORPGs. This means that all MMO players will complete the same quests and be hailed as heroes by the same NPCs, it takes away the chance for the player to properly feel like a hero when xXxSephiroth07xXx has completed the same exact quest and gained the same exact reward.

2. Because questing is now the primary form of progression and that MMOs must retain their playerbase for as long as possible, developers have to strike a balance between the amount of quests and the time it takes a player to progress. This often means that players will often have to complete dozens of quests in order to gain a single level up.

3. Exploration is also halted by quests, as in order to have access to the content of Area B, you may be required to complete the content of Area A, and so on for subsequent Areas. Players are sometimes "forced" to complete a near copy of the content in the Area before it, but with different flavor text, before being allowed to complete another set of the same quests in the next Area.

4. Producing a large amount of quests means a large amount of repetition. There are only 36 different types of dramatic situations and MMOs have thousands of quests. The quests can quickly become repetitive, uninspired, boring, but worse, they sometimes stop making sense. A so called "Hero" sheering sheeps and other chores for other NPCs makes little to no sense. How many gamers do you know who reads a quest's text? Personally, I know of none besides myself, and even then sometimes I just give up reading them for a while, not that the text is not necessarily uninteresting, but that it contributes in no way to the storyline or the lore of the MMO.

5. Players are not interested in re-visiting old areas they've already completed, because there is no purpose to it, nor will it help them progress towards the end-game. This will often leave the low-level areas underpopulated, making it more difficult for newer players to group up with other players or at the very least have some form of interaction.

 

Some MMORPGs have attempted to give players alternative ways to progress, often through "Dynamic" Events, by opening the PvP area sooner, creating multiple dungeons accompanied with a PUG tool that rewards the players for using it. Some have attempted to ditch Questing completely in favor of using almost purely Dynamic Events, but they all fall in the same trap : they have only changed the name, for the basic mechanics remains the same "Protect this farmer and kill 10 rats".

Questing has become toxic. Not only does it not create enjoyment, it hampers it, but worse is that no one has a solution. Instead, companies have turned this into another cash opportunity : "Pay $20 to unlock a level 100 character!", and there is something seriously wrong with that, and yet it works.

By now if you've kept reading since the beginning, you might be wondering, "Well what's your magical solution?" The truth is that I have none. You've read all of this for nothing, in fact, you knew all of these things already. MMORPG gamers have become so used to the current formula that I worry there is no going back, no opportunity for them to discover other avenues because they will all be savagely compared to the current formula. I don't see any foreseeable changes to the genre until it reaches Virtual Reality, which is many years away, maybe even decades.

My theory is that the arrival of mainstream MMORPGs in Virtual Reality will push the genre's focus back to the idea of creating Worlds for players to live in. It will not remove questing completely, but it will force developers to put more energy into building activities that caters to a wider range of gamers. Because keyboards are a liability in VR, developers would have to create a game that will use video game controllers, meaning that the combat would be more action-oriented, and this opens the door for content where a player's skills, as a person rather than as a character, will be put to the test.  Real "heroes" will be born, skilled players that others can look up to. There would still be a lot of quests, but now building the world would be a task just as important, if not more, not only in the eyes of developers, but especially in the eyes of gamers.

Until then however, as much as I love being part of a MMORPG community, I can no longer enjoy a MMO for extended periods of time, and that really saddens me. I can only play for a week or two before I need to take a break and play a different genre of games instead, otherwise it feels like a reenactment of the myth of Sisyphus, and I'm not one for pointlessly pushing boulders up a mountain, not anymore at least. 

 

Thanks for reading my long rant!