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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 5:56AM
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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.

Dealing With Criticism

Posted by Eindrachen Tuesday May 12 2009 at 2:59AM
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The recent internet drama that came out of Eurogamer and Aventurine's little... disagreement about the arguable quality of Darkfall made me realize that one of the worst things in the internet to do is to criticize anything.  And given the kinds of comments being made about the issue, on both sides of the fence, that statement of mine is almost as close to "fact" as it gets.

Basically, people do not want to hear that anything they love and adore isn't perfection.  A person I know has a significant other who apparently insists on being the end topic of every conversation.  They've done more, know more, are capable of more, etc.  They have some personal insight to everything, and if they don't like something, it is obviously inferior no matter what they say.  This is the kind of person who makes judgements of your moral character based on the breakfast cereal you eat.

When they make a mistake, this person is incapable of accepting criticism.  It's not their fault.  Ever.  Obviously it is either a defect in other people (they got in the way, they didn't do something right, they didn't tell me what I needed to know, etc.), or the universe isn't as perfect as they are and thus the task is simply impossible.

It should be obvious that a sensible or reasonable person will laugh at such a fool and simply ignore them.  If a person can not accept that a given thing is flawed or "not perfect", they eventually become incapable of improving because they presume a set limit to knowledge or skill that can not be exceeded beyond their preconceived notions of such things.  That significant other will never attain the level of competency that other friends of mine already have in various games, because they've decided that if they can't win, obviously it isn't something they can personally do anything about.

Well, that's not true.  They can make it someone else's fault, thus covering their own lack of willingness to keep trying to improve.

This has vast implications in the current MMO industry.  People who play video games will complain.  That's just a given.  How the companies respond to the sentiments of their customer base is an entirely different matter.  It can set the tone of things for years to come.

It's not that companies like Aventurine are not entitled to an opinion.  The problem is they don't want to hear anything negative and spend more effort trying to invalidate negative opinions rather than reinforcing positive ones.

If their product is strong enough to stand on its own, then opinions in a magazine can't really amount to much in the end.  Those who love the game, despite the flaws, usually refuse to see any flaws in a game for what they are.  Those who dislike the game, despite the innovations, usually refuse to see any good in a game for what it is.

That, in the end, is the best way to deal with criticism: to treat it as another opinion, but don't let them get your hackles up about it.  Some criticism is designed to do just that, and create controversy where none existed before.  Some is misinformed.  Some is spot-on.  But all of it is subjective, and taken individually, reviews are worthless as a metric for how well a game is doing.

The worst part, however, wasn't Tasos' response.  He isn't the most professional public relations person to be speaking on the matter, but he has passion and conviction, which I respect.  No, the worst part is that I fear most of the Darkfall fanbase will polarize over the issue and become insular and unwelcoming of new players who don't start with a positive opinion of the game.

Darkfall isn't the only game this has been or is a problem with, either.  There are a few other games with players so mean-spirited that they don't want anyone to play their game.

Sadly, they may get their choice, only to see that an MMO without a good playerbase isn't staying online for long...