Borderlands has two speeds of play, much like its ancestor Diablo II: paced and rushed. When I play alone, I am going at my own speed. It might be a slow safe sniper battle or a quick chest run in one of the Havens, but if a pseudo-scientist looked at some waves or something, I feel that there would be an alignment. A pacing tempo, if you will. When I play with others, even close friends, not only does the tempo markedly increase but the speed of play is not always in alignment with the me. Frenetic is a good word for this in its most emotional definition.
I don’t like that feeling. I love playing with other people online, but I don’t feel at one with my gaming experience when that feeling happens.
Left 4 Dead results in an interesting developer bit of genius, if I may say. Its most basic gameplay is not so much different from Borderlands, but every game mechanic is aimed at getting players on the same speed and pace. Lone wolves, speed demons, and slowpokes all get punished along with the team. Players subconsciously search for that balancing speed of not too fast to run into a Boomer, but not to slow to run out of ammo while horde music is playing. Borderlands does not have the same guidance, and even if things start at the same pace with careful chatting, etc. the collective tempo gets quickly washed away in psychic apparatus of self.
MMOs with group play, like Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft, have the herding mechanics built in. They are far more integrated, and therefore far more ignored. In Left 4 Dead, someone can easily leave the group and single handedly kill the Witch. Comments of “lucky idiot” should follow, but spikes in the tempo to give some feeling of individuality are allowed. In group MMOs, we don’t have heroes like that. The tempo belongs to the group, and I believe (with all my research*) that successful groups have gamers that subconsciously submit to the tempo of that MMO gameplay. The dominant speed of gameplay simply metastasizes to overcome individual beats.
None of this is new, but what is interesting is possible changes in the MMO landscape that are coming. I think AI-controlled lackeys might allow players to break away from the herd for short bits and not get immediately slaughtered by the elite wolves. Both Lord of the Rings Online’s skirmish system and Guild Wars 2 companion system could do this. In the skirmish system there can be up to 12 players each with his or her own Soldier. A Minstrel can call a Protector Soldier to act as a wall between soft flesh and morale-crushing lyrics. A Hunter can summon a Sage Soldier to crowd-control whatever is not getting pin-cushioned. It gives an MMO player more power to break away from the collective tempo. If I had the instance piercing powers of a Turbine developer, I would be very interested to see how the amoebic entity of players reacts and splits against foreign invaders, especially ones like a Witch waiting for a good crowning.
if i had the chance, i’d ask the world to dance
*Note to self: place sarcasm font here when released for the internet.