Do What I Think, Not What I Say

I was in a meeting today and someone said “they are only doing what we told them to do, not what we wanted them to do” and I thought that was a great summary of computers and games as a whole.  I remember in my early programming days getting frustrated with some section of code that just wouldn’t work.  I’d pour through the lines, trying to find the problem.  It was never a problem with the code but a problem with the coder.  The system only ever did what I explicitly told it to do, not what I wanted it to do.  For every keystroke the user put in, I had to put in error handling to prevent a whole bunch of other things from happening too.  QA and bug control is a pain.

Today’s games are more and more complex, with hundreds of options for a player at any given time.  Gone are the EQ days of rigid code and sever limitations on playstyle.  If you were creative, you were called an exploiter.  Today, you can do pretty much anything you want in a game (exemplified by GTA) but with that freedom comes unexpected results.  Burning Crusade in WoW is a good example.  Everyone who raided needed to be a leatherworker for drums.  Guilds stacked shamans for bloodlust/heroism.   Content was tuned for this crowd since anything lower was something around a 15% power gap.  Lich King had to completely redesign the buff system to accommodate and “homogenized” the classes to avoid stacking.  Now it’s about individual player skill less so than actual class mechanics.  In that I mean that a great rogue is going to outshine a poor shaman, where in BC this was rarely the case.

This is more of a problem in themeparks, where the rides have expected outcomes.  In sandboxes, where emergent gameplay is encouraged, balance is less of an issue since the variables are so many.  I mean, you can’t rightfully balance group encounters in EvE so that both sides have an even chance.  You can however be explicit in how the given tools will function in a given circumstance.

In my gaming history I was often called an exploiter because I liked to try different things.  My favorite game was “The Incredible Machine”, which pushed for out of the box thinking.  In EQ, my necro soloed effectively in all sorts of places due to poor pathing.  In UO, I had a tree in my house.  In WoW I corpse-jumped through locked doors and climbed to the airport in Ironforge well before Cataclysm.  BioShock Infinite had quite a few places where I’d set up death traps for large groups and not take a scratch.   The entire concept of “what if I do it this way?” is the reason I still play games today.  I do feel bad for QA though.

My Concerns with EvE

While I think that EvE is a good benchmark for PvP sandbox games, I have the underlying impression that it’s painting itself into a corner.  To be noted, I feel the same way about WoW, though MoP was quite a break from the mess of Cataclysm.

If you follow EvE you likely follow Jester’s blog.   Prolific blogger is only the tip of the iceberg.  Of interest is a recent post on the current state of the game at the macro and micro levels.  A long but educating read for sure.

The thing about WoW is that while the game still caters to hardcore raiders, over the years, the game has expanded to attract more player styles.  The devs are the ones holding the real controls of the game as the cart can only follow the rails with a themepark.  If you don’t like the game, you have one throat to choke.

EvE on the other hand is a different beast, where the devs are only able to provide tools and modest controls.  While CCP might want the game to go in a certain direction, they cannot force null-sec to change unless they bring massive changes to the game structure -at great risk of pushing long time gamers out completely.  For a game that presents itself as a PvP game, there’s remarkably little of it outside of ganking – with the odd large battles occurring from time to time.  In fact, the massive battle a few weeks back was looked upon with derision since it essentially happened by accident and was fought over nothing.

EvE is at a point where the game isn’t about spaceships and moons and travel.  It’s about backdoor deals, scams, trades, alliances and stalemates.  It’s like there are two completely different games in EvE.  The starter experience is the complete opposite of the latter end.  And you can’t even bother entering the 2nd part of the game if you aren’t willing to make ridiculous sacrifices along the road.  And the joke is that CCP has stated multiple times that the people in high-sec are funding the null-sec playstyle, essentially the sheep are funding the wolves.

My concern isn’t with the game today, it’s with the direction of the game today.  Null-sec is moving towards larger, slower alliances with no middle or small alliances.  New players are put into a spot of eternal ganking or subservience to the large alliances to see anything outside of high-sec.  There’s no middle ground left.  The worst part isn’t that CCP is ignoring this – they are not – it’s that the people with the real control, the low-sec alliances, don’t see a problem in the first place.