Nothing to Think About

I like to think. As the industry moves towards the mass market, meta-game thoughts are becoming less valuable. This is good for the games as games, but I can still miss the returns to planning and the value it held for Exploring game mechanics.

This encompasses all the forms of character-planning, number-crunching, min-maxing, meta-gaming, and other ways you can think about the game mechanics while not playing it. If you see a spreadsheet showing the trade-offs between different stats, that is an example. If you see a suggestion to take a certain combination of powers, that is an example. If you see a naming system for elves, that is not an example.

This is pretty clearly the domain of the hardcore. If you know and understand the equations for whether a shot hits in EVE Online, you are hardcore, whether or not you play all that much. If you have ever made a table showing input and output prices for your in-game produce, you are hardcore. If you just dive in and play, the numbers be damned, you may not be hardcore even if you spend a lot of time in-game. If you do not think about the game when you are not playing, you are probably not hardcore.

Should games reward this kind of thinking? Should there be a de facto incentive to spend the time min-maxing?

As a thinker, I like it. I have a few standard deviations on the average player, and it gives me a way to excel other than amassing hours of playing time. As information, I can share this, so someone who does not enjoy the deep thinking can enjoy the results.

Which leads to downloading FotM builds, script kiddies, and all the other leeching by the ignorant. Bleh. At least many are too stupid or lazy to get it working without exceedingly simple instructions, but then they clog the forums where smart people talk. That is in the FAQ. Read the FAQ. Really, it is in there, read the whole thing. Look, here is a link to the line in the FAQ. Look, I’m quoting it, here, in the thread. No, I will not re-explain it to you. Stop starting new threads. Oh, the flashbacks.

(How many times have you seen this thread title: “most powreful class/spec?”?)

So now you are punished for not taking the time to engage in meta-game thinking, and you are rewarded for being able to read a cheats page. That did not work out too well.

But I like thinking. I like having something game-useful I can do while away from the keyboard.

If you are not seeing what I mean, take Warhammer or The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume One: Shadows of Angmar™. You buy your skills at the level you earn them. Done. In Warhammer, you can also pick a mastery tree and which traits/morales to use. If you can put more than 15 minutes of thought into which traits work well with your mastery tree and under what conditions, one of us has no idea what is going on. In The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume One: Shadows of Angmar™, you pick a few traits as well, again an easy pick. If you play a creep, you make a half-dozen decisions ever.

Now compare this to City of Heroes. In City of Heroes, you have five (plus two) classes, each with over thirty primary/secondary power pool combinations. You can pick those powers in different orders, supplement them with up to four other pools, add many enhancement slots, and decide what to use in each slot. You can get most of the value quick and dirty: six slot attacks with Acc, 3*Dam, End, Rchg; four or five slot toggles with 1-2*End and 3*whatever the toggle does. But you can also spend time looking at sets and otherwise optimizing. You could spend days putting together builds for all the combos that interest you.

Compare Dungeons and Dragons, 3rd and 4th Editions. Under 3rd Edition, you can take radical steps at any level. Pick a new or old base or prestige class, gain skill points, feats, spell, and class features. There are things to calculate. Under 4th Edition, you have a class. You pick from a menu of ~4 items at each level, maybe fewer in practice. Done. There is very little to optimize.

But you can jump right in. You do not feel like you are missing anything if you fail to optimize for D&D4E. If you decide that you do not like Cleansing Burst, you can trade it for Angelic Rescue next level. Few choices, few consequences, kick in the door and go. I think that is better for the game. You should not need Excel to excel.

This probably comes of starting with Asheron’s Call. I like skill-based systems. I still think there are ways of importing the forum output to the game. But the casual games market, which is bigger than us, is not going to put up with this crap. I don’t know if I still would.

It is hard to be an obsessive addict with nothing to ponder in the off-season.

: Zubon

6 thoughts on “Nothing to Think About”

  1. I think you copied an older version of the post at the end there.

    But yeah, it’s hard to tell, maybe it’s a totally different kind of game, more of a simulator. Games were getting more and more advanced, i remember reading an article by Gygax where he decries the heavy skill based games like Loremaster. he seemed to like it simple. Spend 10 minutes rolling up a character then go at it.
    But really the heavy calculations are almost more fun while I’m not playing the game than they are when I’m playing. I’ll catch myself spending hours on forums and making spreadsheets, arguing over details, and then I think “I could be playing the game right now”.

    In some ways I think GW rewards this way of analyzing a lot more, while still keeping it simple. Since you can only use so many powers, there are so many different combinations of powers you can make and it’s easy to switch between and test them out. And more than one formula for everything. But at the same time, you can make a new max level guy and jump in and not think at all. Maybe you’ll get rolled by the team who did min max, but you might still have fun.

  2. My brother feels the same way. Everything is too simplified (dumbed down) and thus somewhat boring. Go play Baldur’s Gate 2. (again if you have already done it) You won’t be disappointed.

  3. Let’s call it… alternate progression. I’ve got a few “strategy guides” for games I don’t even own and have no intention of playing. I love digesting game design. It would be nice to have a game actually reward that sort of mental effort.

    That said, I presently work in game development, so perhaps that’s the natural outlet for those who actually care about how games are put together, rather than looking stylish in stupidly proportioned shoulderpads. The act of thinking is vastly underrated by society at large, but there are still a few places where it’s valuable. Design and engineering, whether it’s of games or anything else with design intricacies, still needs people who know how to think.

  4. Good thoughts. I guess it’s a trade-off between being new player friendly and retaining your veteran players.

    It sucks, especially if you’ve got a game that you’ve played for a while and are trying to get a friend into. You have to carry them for a couple of months, because stuff that seems basic and instinctive to you wraps their mind into a pretzel.

    Ultimately though, the skill that you’ve learnt by min-maxing in an RPG are only specific to that particular game. You go and pick up another game, well there’s another 500 skills you have to memorize the functions of. I used to love the min-max game in terms of that, but I have less and less motivation to go through that learning process with new games these days.

    Compare it to being a FPS fan. Once you’re good, you’re pretty much good, and you only need an hour or 2 to get used to the different guns etc in a new game before you can dive right in.

    I’d really love to see an RPG with more “building-block” typed skills that can be comboed together in very logical ways (the new Warden class in LotRO sounds like a step in the right direction), to cut down on all the crazy mumbo jumbo.

  5. A good game, in my opinion, is one that is easily accessible but deep enough that you can keep analysing it for years. This doesn’t only hold true for MMOs or even computer games but board games, sports etc. I think it has also been one of the factors that make WoW a successful game.

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