Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reimagining the Game Through WoW

I hate World of Warcraft. It's a time and money sink, and a rip-off of the Gauntlet series of video games. I mean, seriously, look at Gauntlet from the 80s:

Right down to the spawning monsters. This game was fun 25 years ago, but adding the ability to name your characters, giving them more to collect, and improving the graphics isn't enough for me to pay a monthly fee. And it shouldn't be for anyone else either.

That being said, though, the game designers have some good points to make about game design - ones that I need to remember when putting Galadran together. They make some mistakes as well.

First point to address:

It's a good point. WoW is a simple game to learn. So was D&D once. I'm not the only one who remembers that, either. What happened? The same thing that happened to wargames before roleplaying - as the players became more sophisticated, they began to demand more from the game. Modern players want gameplay sophistication to a degree that would have killed the hobby if it had been present all along.

But it's wrong at the same time. AD&D was very complicated, and it managed not only to survive, but prosper. The key is that the new levels of complication had a rationale behind them that the new player could understand. This made the rule make sense in a way that the more modern rules and powers do not. Why in 4e does my fighter have so many cool supernatural-style powers? Its never explained how healing surges work, or what they're supposed to represent in a concrete way (they are like a "second wind" for the PC, but even that explanation leaves something to be desired). How do clerics work with their Gods? Are healing surges a mechanical metagaming thing, or do they represent something more? I don't know - the game doesn't tell me. That makes the rule one I need to remember by rote- which is annoying. It would be easier to remember if it represented something I could understand in "real world" terms.

So the secret to adding complexity to your game is to make sure that it represents something that people can understand. Just more rules for their own sake (like powers in 4e) are irritating to remember, largely because people don't learn that way. They learn by applying new information to existing concepts - that's why knowledge in school builds on itself, why you need to understand base principles before more complicated material can be introduced. We learn that way. Memorization is considered the lowest form of educational tool. It is frustrating to the student, and typically considered a waste of time. Why would that be the primary way to play a game made for pleasure?

Second Point:

Gameplay First: Before anything else, you want to concentrate the game on the fun. All aspects of the game -- the design, the mechanics of encounters, the quests and story are focused on making the game fun to play. Not only fun to play -- but fun to play for players, not developers.

I forget this one a lot when designing my game, so it's important to remember. I love my game, but that makes sense - it's MINE. If I want other people to love my game, I need to make it good for them as well. I have a certain amount of this that I can ignore (people that are playing in my game know the sort of person I am, so are expecting a certain amount of my brand of "coolness." But the game is really for them, not for me, and I should remember that.

The challenge is to keep players jumping through the correct hoops, while making those hoops fun.

No. No. No. The challenge is to make the experience fun and immersible enough that the characters will create their own hoops. That is the essence of a sandbox world over a plot-driven one. If your characters feel that they can do whatever they want, they will come upon with things to do, rather than needing you to give them tasks. That is the measure of success in this endeavor.

Point Three:

You can see this philosophy in 4e, and to some extent in d20. It's wrong. There's no sense of accomplishment in that philosophy. That's a no-brainer. If you want the game to be anything more than level grinding and optimizing power builds, there needs to be a sense of accomplishment inherent in the game that encourages players to work together, share the accomplishment, and look forward to the next challenge. If the game is not hard, there is not "winning," only escapist time-wasting. You can play video games for that. This should be more than a video game around a table.

And it can be. For me it is.