Core Gameplay

MMOs have you running on a treadmill to reach a carrot dangling in front of you.  We talk a lot about that carrot.  Is it big enough for the effort required?  Is there any carrots to chase after you max your character’s level?  One thing hardcore grinders like me can forget to ask is, “What about the treadmil itself?  How inherently fun is the activity you spend most of your time doing?”

When I ask someone what the core-gameplay of something is, they might say it’s killing stuff like IG-88 from Star Wars.  But that’s not what I mean.  That’s the theme they paint on top of it.  At it’s core, you have some kind of challenge like lining your crosshairs up to shoot a droid in a shooter like Shadows of the Empire on the Nintendo 64, or trying to decide which cards to play as you do in the SWG online card game, or spamming specials to try and hold agro for the group as you would do as a tank in the IG-88 heroic instance in SWG.  The actual core gameplay is vastly different in all of these games.

The core gameplay isn’t just one thing though.  It’s not just killing.  It’s getting ready for fights too.  Whether that means deciding which materia pieces to put in your sword in FFVII or which cards to put in your deck in a card game, or which traits you want to equip in Lotro, or waiting for a buff from an entertainer in SWG.

What keeps an MMO from being a grind is all about the core gameplay being fun.  Crafting is one of the worst offenders when it comes to core-gameplay.  In SWG  the whole system is just a bunch of menus and boring click-fests.  I literally used a mouse recording program to do the clicking and dragging for me when I used to make +35 powerbits because I found it so boring.  If I didn’t use such a program, my hand would cramp up and hurt after the first couple hours of crafting.

SWG of course has a great crafting system overall.  Searching for the best resources and the rarest junk-loots has the same treasure-hunt style core-gameplay that you have in real life when you visit a flea market.  All of the good gameplay in crafting is in the finding of resources when it comes to SWG.

But this is true for most MMOs.  Lotro actually lets you automate the process when it comes to actually crafting so that you can walk away from your computer while making iron bars for xp.  In EQ2, they realized the core-gameplay of combat was more fun than crafting so they tried to copy combat over to crafting.  You could actually die to a forge if you messed up too much.  The gameplay centered around trying to simon-says match the skill shown on the forge with the appropriate skill and also spamming other specials inbetween simon-says events.

Then we have Free Realms.  In Free Realms there are twitch-based crafting games that have you do things like trying to pour just the right amount of water into a pot.  There’s also a clock so that you can see what your best time is.  Some of the actions are a real pain in the wrist, but it shows a lot of promise as a concept.

This has me wondering tonight… what do MMOs need to do in order to have core-gameplay as fun as single player games?

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Suzina is a 27 year old who usally plays the same MMOs as her husband. Games played: UO, EQ2, FFXI, SWG, LOTRO.

9 thoughts on “Core Gameplay”

  1. A big aspect is having less visible and more complex rules. Combat is interesting when the results are not predicted merely upon the game’s rules, but upon the user’s ability to work within or around those rules. If combat worked like conventional crafting, trading X HP for Y XP and no variation or special powers, it’d be damned boring too. There are a few people who don’t mind that, but not many.

    Of course, the problem is that twitch-based gameplay and oft-repeated actions get old, fast. Randomized results and high risks (such as an individual crafting item, which may well require hours of work to gain the material for) don’t exactly work well either. It’s not hard to find someone who complains about Fable 2‘s blacksmith job or is close to building a shrine to the Random Number God in the hopes of getting a lucky item results from a crafting session. It’s not as bad if you’re looking for it — see the Wario games for the Wii — but it can be tricky to do right.

    What I’d like to see is more time spent on exploring and fighting the rules of the crafting system. In modern systems, crafting tends to be either extremely well-defined or RNG-based. That’s computationally the cleanest solution, but it seems a mite bit lackluster compared to combat or even fishing in these sort of games. Take Legend of Mana’s tempering system, which is stupidly complex, with more than a hundred different items and a couple dozen different attributes involved. It’s an Explorer dreamland, and Achievers tend to find the stuff interesting as well.

  2. In a typical MMO there might be a skill that increases my critical hit chance by 15%, and another adds +5 damage, another enhances damage by 8%, and another lowers defense by 10%, etc… what they really all do though is pretty much *the same thing*

    I think the key is to give people fewer options in combat, but with each option having much greater tactical/functional implications that differ from each other. Focus on using the right skills at the right time in the right place in co-ordination with the rest of your team mates, as opposed to bringing the right combination of skills and then just pushing 1-2-3.

  3. I like core gameplay that involves me doing roughly the same thing a great number of times.

    I like the success to be judged by my character’s skill, not my skill.

    I don’t like to have to counter events or react much to changes on screen.

    I like to have to be present at the keyboard and click the mouse/keys a reasonable, but not debilitating, number of times per event (per kill/per item crafted). I don’t mind clicking once and watching a bar fill, that works too.

    Ideally I like each event to be turn-based, so I can pause and think, or get up and make a coffee and come back to pick up where I left off.

    I don’t like any element of FPS-style visual targetting, any significant requirement for player skill (twitch) over character skill (rpg stat rolls).

    Basically, for combat I like original EQ1 core gameplay, but with a significantly faster xp curve, and for crafting I like Vanguard’s turn-based system.

  4. As an explorer? Keep me moving, at first. The longer I spend in one area the more likely I am to drain it dry of content. In free realms I’m being tossed back and forth across the world constantly. Sure, there’s no autorun, but there’s also no danger to stopping to take a break, and I don’t think there’s anywhere you can get that would take longer than 6 minutes to run to from its closest warp-point (and since you can use those anywhere, it makes a large map rather more managable. It’s refreshing.

  5. Outcome…story….a reason to play.

    This always had me mystified over why Darkfall seems to interest so many players (well, some players..)
    It has no goal, and the combat looks shoddy…so really, what does it offer?

    Looking back at LOTRO, I mean we know the outcome of the story, and we cannot affect it in any way, thus this game really has no meaning to me.

    When I played EQ2, it eventually got to the point that I was in one region to do their dirty work, then move to the next region which looked somewhat different and do their grunt major goal but to level.

    I like an underlying theme as well as a good core mechanic.

    Guild Wars? Awesome stuff there. We have a reason to get to level 20..we can have a conclusion if we wish.

    Age of Conan has an underlying story that I can play until I get to max.

    Things like consequences, storylines that are enticing and excellent core mechanics all make for great gaming.

    The sad bit is..Most MMO’s do not have this.

    MMO’s have become so rote that eventually I think this genre will eventually die out unless someone makes some changes..(that diatribe again).

    One can hope I guess. If this year’s offerings are any clue, I do not think it will happen.

  6. Let’s see, I like the minigame approach (because I like puzzles yay). The only thing is that no single minigame should be compulsory, because I found in Puzzle Pirates that I’d prefer some minigames and hate others, or that I could only spend so long at one game. So if you hate the one minigame that is compulsory (or the most needed I.E. sailing) you’ll soon get sick of the overall game.

    openedge1, you’re talking about the motivation, if the underlying game was fun, you wouldn’t need motivation or a reason to play quite so much.

  7. The most fun I have had has been in a good group in EQ1 when you’re pushing your limits. It was just a blast. My dream game would take EQ1’s world, mythos, races, and classes (some, like warrior, with changes) and couple them with better graphics, better populated zones (South Karana anyone?), and WoW xp curve and questing. I get angry just thinking about the fact that no one is working on this.

    Also, I love leveling. Love it. This causes me problems, especially back in EQ. More, faster leveling please. Take a 50 cap game and make it a 500 cap game with lots of little gains. Instead of say, a six level grouping limit, its a 60 level limit. Instead of getting 5 hit points every level you get 1 every other level. You get the idea. I want dings, man. Nothing really changes except I spend more time listening to pleasant sounds effects while being showered in lights.

    Another thing that I am surprised that no one had done (as far as I know) is players modifying their xp by changing their in game settings. For example, the base for death penalty might be reset to bind point, no xp debt. Then you could change that for an xp bonus. You add an xp debt and you get and xp bonus. You add rez type effects and you get another. You add showing up naked with your gear on your corpse, and you are raking in the xp.

    You could do the same with PvP options and instance difficulty (as others already do). You can do all of this on the same server. Or maybe I’m crazy.

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