Interesting choices

A theme has been circulating around the blogosphere of late, several posts for which its too late and I’m too lazy to link back to (apologies), that have been commenting on aspects of gameplay that can be loosely categorized as requiring (or at least permitting) the player to make “interesting choices”.  I’ve been somewhat busy and remiss in commenting on them, but ultimately think they are on to something…

In some games like Rift with its multivariate soul system, that means that players get to make interesting choices about character development and differentiation.  Likewise those choices in theory permit a player to choose how to configure one’s character for a given play scenario– instanced dungeon, rifting, solo pve, solo pvp, etc.

Gordon at We Fly Spitfires and Wil at The Ancient Gaming Noob both touched on a few aspects of class design that highlighted another aspect of player choice or the (merits of the) limits thereof.  Likewise, Keen had a few good thoughts on old EQ which resonated.

My own recent experiences on the progression server in EQ which were initially borne of nostalgia and perhaps a bit of a masochistic streak have been validated well beyond the mere “lets go see how bad it was and we can blog about it” angle.

I’m having a good time on Fippy Darkpaw.  Its not easy.  There is no definitive path.  Death is my copilot.  Travel can take both time and luck…  My druid may know two dozen spells, some of dubious value, but can only equip eight at a time.  Choices.  I can’t cast them all, only the ones I’ve memorized.  A load out.

Once out of the pure noob zone, our progression has been fueled by a desire to “see the world”.  There is no definitive path.  We’ve zigged and zagged across Antonica and now to Faydwer to serve a our own goal or to build our own story.  Not a narrative that came out of a team meeting and was preordained by the only progression mechanic permitted but rather one of our own making.

There’s an interesting tension in reading about the seemingly extreme flexibility of Rift’s design paradigm and the rather rigid structure of old EQ, however both are based on creative player choice.  I wonder what problem they are truly trying to solve.

In the case of Rift, players have what appear to be myriad choices and are thus capable of adapting their characters to emergent gameplay situations.  In old EQ, its more like chess.  Or even Rock, Paper, Scissors.  Each piece(class) has certain attributes and to be effective, a player has to learn, analyze and make creative choices to be effective.  In essence, rigidity creates unique opportunity for making interesting choices and emergent gameplay.  Players are forced to solve problems with the tools they are given.  This is a good thing.

Encounters aren’t so finely tuned that there is, in essence, only one solution of player classes and actions that permits success, but rather, the opposite– multivariate solutions permit success and thus create a dynamic choice environment for players.  Iteration and innovation in situational tactics permit success on many levels.

That sounds like a bit of a high falutin’ way to describe that I tend to enjoy games that emphasize creative problem solving (given a relatively limited set of resources) more than those that restrict the “solution set” and rely merely on execution– Dance Dance Revolution writ large.  One successful strategy, one optimum group composition, etc.

More problematic, IMHO, is the fact that mainstream games like WoW have trivialized the leveling game completely removing any meaningful player choice.  Likewise, raiding (I’m not a raider) and for that matter current instanced dungeon content, only requires execution rather than tactics and strategy.  Regardless of your class choice, the optimal solution requires X effective dps, Y effective hp of the tank, and Y effective mana of the healer.

I’m probably in the minority, but I’m certainly more interested in the journey rather than the destination.  Currently, I’m enjoying the journey involved in a twelve year old game over everything offered in the current crop of MMOs.  It will be interesting to see whether the convergent trend to in essence no free will or player choice trump more open systems in the next few major releases.

I suspect I’ll be playing GW2 more than SW:TOR.


3 thoughts on “Interesting choices”

  1. That’s a really good encapsulation of how things of changed. I think you’re getting to the heart of a lot of the current angst and ennui, where decade-old MMOs seem still to have an indefinable something that newer ones struggle to match.

    My experience of EQ was always about experimentation and problem solving, not about iteration and perfection. You could always find a way around a block, or felt that one existed if only you could figure it out. In WoW and post-WoW games it always feels much more that you have to learn a specific strategy and practice it until perfect.

    In that respect, post-WoW MMOs remind me more of the platform games I played in the 198os than of RPGs. I firnly believe that you can continue to play any MMO with imaginatin and creativity, but it certainly the case that some have technical infrastructures that facilitate problem-solving more than others.

  2. I’m definitely more interested in the journey over the destination too and that’s something that games like EQ emphasis because, when it was conceived, the designers hadn’t even thought about an “endgame”.

    To me, games like EQ and WoW or RIFT are millions of miles apart and really appeal to different audiences. WoW appeals to traditional video gamers who want immediate responses and rewards. EQ appeals more to roleplayer who want to take their time and enjoy the company of others. This can be witnessed perfectly in the difference between the combat mechanics where in WoW you’re button mashing constantly whilst in EQ you’re chatting most of the time :)

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