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.

Nostalgia vs Reality

With all this recent talk from diehard nostalgia blogs about UO, it makes you wonder what game they were and should be playing. I mean if you’re willing to pirate an IP, why are you not playing the legit client?

If you removed the trammel/felucca split from UO today, would the game be different? Would the PvE folks who were camped for 4 years somehow decide to come back? I loved UO, even with its faults. I made a LOT of money selling plots of land and characters. The latter was a time investment, the former was a clear limitation due to squatter’s rights. I’m sure I could have made a business of flipping houses on eBay.

UO had 95% of the game right. Sadly, that 5% remaining was a core concept of the game that failed in execution – murderers and consequence. There is a very, very good reason UO subs dropped like a rock when EQ came out. Probably related to the fact that EQ had only a smidgen of PvP compared to the massive push on PvE. EVE is a great example where even the PVP aspect is only consumed by a tiny (though vocal) minority.

This sort of bleeds into the WAR debate of what was done right vs what was done poorly. A lot was great but the portions that mattered were done poorly. SWTOR is the same, where the obvious investments actually had next to no long term appeal. The only themepark that has had any success in the subscription model is Trion and I’ll assume this is due to their business model of aiming for a small sub count. I mean if you’re aiming for a million, then you need to offer WoW. If you’re offering that, why would someone from WoW swap years of investment? Aim small and build rather than aiming big and tearing down.

Would UO have been better with consentual PvP? Griefing would have still happened certainly. With more punative costs to “murderers”? This would have potentially deterred most. If UO Forever, which is played by admittedly more hardcore players, is unable to contain their “murderer” problem, then what possible hope did the game ever have?

Nostalgia is one thing. Actually seeing the patch notes show that the core problem from 10 years ago still exists should be enough to finish the point.