As trees give their leaves to the Earth September gives way to October. Being a gamer fall always holds a special place in my little black heart. It’s when the holiday season gathers momentum toward the launch of new games. So many sleepless fall nights spent in a dark room lit only by the glow of a fuzzy monitor...
Speaking of sleepless, the building blocks of the Camelot Unchained combat system are finally in place. The next phase is a prototype to hold to the fire, or rather have testers hold to the fire. What can testers expect from what is effectively the first playable draft of what will evolve into the final combat system? Not a lot at first.
The combat must learn, adapt, grow and frankly, fail. It needs to fail time and time again so CSE can assess, learn the lesson each failure presents, adapt then try again until its launch ready and more importantly-fun! Sometimes you learn more from failing than winning, that seems especially applicable in game design. I thought about saying balanced rather than “fun” but this is a MMORPG, we all know balance is a lie, there is only the illusion of balance, which this gamer prefers. I find the most balanced games tend to lack something, an element of uncertain failure maybe?
Certain failure, no problem. Certain victory, easy. Uncertain failure; the unknown but potential result, that is nerve-wracking. It divides the leaders from the recorders of history. In the face of uncertain failure, it was the leaders who exclaimed “never tell me the odds” and forged ahead do or die. It was the recorders that ran away, sat on the sidelines and recorded what was about to happen. Its nerve racking but the best worst times, the ones that become part of your guild's lore, relish it.
With perfect balance comes its bedfellow predictability. No matter how slight, PVPers need to believe they have a chance. Camelot Unchained needs rock, paper, scissors and enough random chaos to help nudge us toward raising our swords rather than our knees as we march away in retreat. Not a liability or insurance, but a thought held in the darkest depths of our mind that says what if…maybe…and I’m going to try.
It has become far too difficult to fail while playing MMORPGs. Back in our day it was a quest filled feat just to log into a MMORPG! Surviving the wilds it wasn’t, but as far as being a gamer goes, it was an incredible test. If you frequented pen and paper circles, hobby shops or subscribed to a gaming magazine you MIGHT have learned about a MMORPG. Often it was via whispers in the wind and few really knew what they we talking about because MMORPGs were simply too new for anyone to have preconceived notions. (Editor's note: I still remember my fast food worker friends regaling me with tales of Asheron's Call and the killer bunny based on Monty Python.)
Your next step was not an easy one. You had to build a gaming computer and I mean BUILD it. You couldn’t hop on a site to order an overclocked tower that you hooked up to your gaming mouse, backlit keyboard and HD monitor. None of those things existed back then. Those who sought them often went to a physical computer store to seek advice on building one. Many of the first gaming rigs looked more like office machines than the space ships control panels of today.
Let’s say you built a machine thanks to the help of a real life friend now what? Now you had to obtain a connection that could actually hold a MMORPG without lagging you out constantly. Again this was no easy task. Google didn’t have all the answers back then but I think used Webcrawler a time or two.
Writers note – neither of the above achievements guaranteed you would be able to play your MMORPG. In fact, often one of the two did not sync up; your machine was not powerful enough or your connection was to weak and further steps were required before you could log in for the first time.
You have your rig and a stable connection. Now it’s time to log in! “Server down”. “Connection lost”. Maybe the game just crashes to the desktop upon loading. These were common hurdles. Early MMORPGers spent more time trouble shooting than playing. Through the flames of all those uncertain failures emerged a unique breed of determined gamer. One that learned to appreciate little things like being able to log in or hold a connection for an hour or two!
To this day developers and players from that era share a special bond. It was a time of unknowns and while most of them ended with another bitter lesson developers and players that overcame burned their experiences into their subconscious through the memories we forged together. It was an era of great frustrations that contributed to greater fun. MMORPGers are accused of being more passionate than many other gamers. We feel like this genre belongs to us as much as we do it because we were forged from the same fires alongside one another.
I think I’ll end on a metaphor. I once asked a hunter why he got up at five in the morning to make a 3-hour drive to walk 8 miles to hunt a bird he might never see. He smirked and said “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun”. Our relationship with this genre and the kind of PVP I hope Camelot Unchained will feature in one short line. It only makes sense that the gameplay we are attracted to is exactly what drew us to this genre in the first place; the challenge of uncertain failure and the thrill of overcoming it.