Please, ponder with me the borders of hidden and emergent complexity.
By “emergent,” I mean “arising from interaction.” You can create incredibly complex designs with Legos, but the Legos themselves are simple. The complexity arises from the many ways you can arrange the simple pieces. There are, however, Legos that are cut into specific shapes for particular uses or that integrate unusual components like motors. Those have some inherent complexity.
In gaming, emergent complexity is generally a good thing. It is the source of the meta-game, and it is often what we mean by “easy to learn, hard to master.” The parts are simple, the whole is complex.
By “hidden,” I mean that the parts look simple but are themselves complex units. Continue reading
I enjoyed the heck out of my first couple of Reus playthroughs. It is palling in the face of the between-games advancement system, but I expect that to turn around once I am past it and have access to everything. Time will tell how much replayability there is.
Reus is a god game Continue reading
This seems to be a popular time for noting network effects and the death of social networks. Two graduate students got remarkable coverage of applying epidemiological models to MySpace and Facebook, finding that Facebook’s pattern in Google searches is right about where MySpace’s was as it entered its decline. For our in-game social networks, Tobold is predicting the death of MMOs as a genre. (By the time this post goes live, there may be a post from SynCaine explaining that EVE is doing it right and will still have a growing playerbase even after we have our own spaceships.)
Just as economists predicted nine out of the last five recessions, the impending demises of Facebook and World of Warcraft have been predicted every three to six months since the 1980s (I may be exaggerating). Whoever happens to have predicted those most recently when they happen will claim credit as a great prognosticator, and whoever has ever predicted them can claim to be right in principle, just off on the timing.
Given precedent, when one of these systems collapses, “collapse” is usually a better term than “decline.” The same social effects that drive adoption drive abandonment. Again, timing that collapse is really hard even if it is obviously impending; “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent),” and just because you recognize a bubble does not make it pop.
Lucky strings of matches in match-3 games are reminding me of critical hits in RPG games.
Players love randomness and seeing big numbers. A smaller subset of players know that randomness usually works against them. A critical hit against a monster means that it died in 2 seconds instead of 5. A critical hit against a player character could be a one-shot kill from a monster that otherwise probably would not do any damage.
Playing Marvel Puzzle Quest, I sometimes get huge strings of chain reactions, 3s and 4s and 5s just falling into place and destroying the enemy. I was already 95+% certain to win that round, so it just sped things up a bit. It feels like the enemy gets them a lot more; I have seen columns of matches fall in repeatedly, so the enemy matches several dozen tiles with one move as yet another set of 4 reds falls in from off-screen. I am reasonably certain a careful accounting whould not show any advantage to the computer’s side; it is just far more noticeable when it happens against you than for you, especially since that random, 20,000 damage chain reaction pretty much is your 5-or-less percent chance of losing that round. I have had my entire team taken out in one round as the tiles just kept falling, matching, falling, matching, free turn!, use abilities, falling, matching, free turn!, falling…
“Hack, Slash, Loot” is in the current Humble Roguelike Weekly Sale. I thought I should give roguelikes more of a try, having had disappointing experiences with them before. This is perhaps the worst one I have ever played.
Over the years, I have repeatedly talked about the importance of having a good opening and the failure of some games to do that. Hack, Slash, Loot starts you out with character options that are all too weak to complete the game without ridiculous luck, although perhaps a veteran player could do so with only very good luck. You unlock better characters by completing the game or dying a lot. They unlock when your death reaches a new square number, starting with 9, so you are almost guaranteed to lose your first 16 to 36 times playing. You have no meaningful chance at all. The more positive review I found for the game said that you would just need to accept losing and dying for about four hours straight, then the game starts to get enjoyable.
Assume the game gets better. How big a factor is luck in this game? There is a Steam achievement for missing 10 times in a row. The most commonly completed achievement for this game is “die in less than 20 turns.” Expect the unwinnable.
But the graphics are cute.
Tabletop gamers: right now, this is a new and exciting thing using the latest technology. How long until most gaming shops have a 3D printer for exactly this purpose? How long until most homes have one and anyone can do this? The Diamond Age is coming.
Marvel Puzzle Quest has a neat aspect of its design that boosts new players, hampers journeyman players, and encourages players to advance and spend money. Most events give a boost to certain characters and require that they be in your team.
If you are a new player, this is awesome. You are level 3, but you get a buffed level 15 Dr. Doom to fight alongside you. This is why Black Widow is especially great in the early game: your buffed NPC is out there tanking and doing extra damage, while charging up your support characters’ abilities.
If you are a journeyman player, this is lousy. You now have some strong characters, but not all of them, and this event now forces you to use a lower-level character who may not synergize with your best characters. The same mechanic that made you stronger in the beginning, when you did not have anything better than a buffed level 15, weakens you in the mid-game, when you definitely do have something better.
Players with a substantial investment in the game will have a strong version of most characters or the resources to boost one up to a decent level for what feels like a very small investment. I have dropped thousands of ISO (in-game currency/xp) into characters who I must use during events, because I can get 10-15 levels on those guys or 2-3 on a level 50-ish two-star character. And as the game will happily tell you, you can always spend more money to level your characters really quickly.
This design encourages players to spend by giving them trial-sized portions of more characters. Also, some missions during events will require a particular character but not provide it for free; invest in more characters or miss the rewards for those missions.
In Marvel Puzzle Quest again, the upcoming rebalancing was announced in-game, alerting people that Thor and Wolverine would be nerfed (“funbalanced”). The next day, the developers released the PvP tournament of the week, in which Thor is given a power boost. The PvE event of the weekend gives that same boost to Wolverine.
Human beings are surprisingly poor at estimating how happy something would make us. It turns out that your long-term happiness is largely fixed and resilient to shocks. Winning the lottery or losing a limb does affect your happiness, but not nearly as much as you might expect.
A major problem in estimating a change in happiness is that we are envisioning the moment of the change itself, rather than the average change over time. A cookie makes you happy right now, but that effect goes away within the hour. Losing a limb makes you unhappy right now, but that effect also usually fades over time (more than an hour).
In-game, you are envisioning the moment you get a really great drop. That is a really great moment, winning a small lottery. But how much happiness does that bring you over time? Moving up to “best in slot” is often a tiny percentage improvement. You need quite a few of those best-in-slot drops for the effect to be noticeable, and what you envision there is the item grind.
Or maybe gameplay will become too easy after that, so your great moments create an average decrease over time. Remember, you’re surprisingly poor at estimating what makes you happy. Don’t worry, that effect also fades over time as the new best-in-slot gear is added, at which point you can start pursuing that.
My attitude towards questions in general chat is a mix of sympathy and scorn. I see where Endgame Viable is coming from, because people ask some fundamentally stupid and lazy questions, ones where the answer was probably already on-screen but they clicked past it instead of reading (or asking that exact “endgame viable” question in a newbie zone). I am also the veteran of a dozen MMOs where broken quests were the norm rather than the exception, so it seems reasonable to ask whether you have the right answer. I suppose my dividing line is between “is this the right answer?” and “what is the right answer?”
I just played Anna – Extended Edition. (Quick review: creepy atmosphere, nice story breadcrumbs, some interface dodginess, and:) It has some of the classic adventure game insanity I described in the linked post and Old Man Murray described in the post linked therein. It matters which of several bladed bladed objects you use to cut particular objects, and essential items to advance are hidden in a drawer (but some desks’ drawers are purely decorative and cannot be opened). I am pretty sure this is a game where the atmosphere is the point more than the game itself, and I felt only the most minimal shame in having a walkthrough open on my second monitor. While the point of a puzzle game is to solve the puzzle, I do not feel lessened because I did not guess I was supposed to find baby hair in an object in one of the cribs, nor that I did not independently guess which dark brown rectangles on one of fifteen shadowy shelves per room was a book.
In MMOs, the social aspect of the game is supposed to be part of the game. If content is meant to be puzzled out on your own, not in cooperation with others, it pretty much needs a big sign over it saying, “Go in unspoiled!” because our default is to collaborate. You could solo the scavenger hunt, or you could work with your friends. And with 100,000 “friends” playing, at least 100 of whom will update a wiki or post a comment, it seems little wonder that people expect the guide to be written for them.
I am all for asking for a nudge, direction, or confirmation in general chat. I think my wife gets a better puzzle game experience than I do because I either force my way through it or Google the help, while she has someone in the room she can ask, “Am I doing this wrong, or am I doing the wrong thing?” I wish we had a better way of teaching new players to ask that question rather than “tell me how to do it.” Whatever your thoughts about giving a man a fish or teaching him to fish, “can you fish in rivers or just lakes?” seems like a fair question.