Full Stop

I re-installed TrackMania this past holiday weekend. I needed something a little fresher and more action oriented than what my current MMO, Rift, was providing, and to be honest, I am more than a little excited about TrackMania 2: Canyon. My buddy found a decent United server (all game modes instead of just the freeware Nations with only Stadium races). It was great fun, especially one butterfly-shaped ultra-high speed Island race. About the time my mind was shutting down the map changed, and my fun went full stop.

One of the joys of playing on a TrackMania server is seeing so many cool maps that the admins want to share with the users. After all, TrackMania’s soul is grounded on player-generated content. Not every map is a winner, but it’s cool to see such creativity. The best maps cover so many bases such as learning the track, danger, speed, excitement, and competition. The worst maps (like LoL maps, in my opinion) feel randomly thrown together in some barest form of a slip-shod racetrack where winning is a dice roll.

This particular race was in the Rally environment, which is definitely not one of my favorites (though I don’t hate it like Coast). It had all the appearances of a really good map. It was fast and competitive. The turns were tricky. The scenery was beautiful. All told it hit really high marks, until all the beauty went full stop as I slammed in to a dead end.

The shtick of the map seemed to be in learning where the actual racetrack veered unmarked to the next tracked area and the deceiving paved road I was on led into a tunnel underground ending with a brick wall. This was repeated multiple times. I started to catch on, but in a race I am also trying to go fast. I don’t want to stop and watch for signs of yet another brick wall heading my way. The pros that had already been through the track’s rough conditioning diverged from the road in seemingly random fashion to follow the actual, invisible course.

I knew from an instant, once I understood this shtick, that the punishment from learning the track would vastly outweigh any fun I would have. It wasn’t like other tracks which punished me for taking a turn too fast, which is my fault given that I should have seen it coming. This track was actually trying to trick me, and the outcome from being duped was basically death, in a video game sense.

I thought of how in an MMO sense, I was basically “wiping.”  So many challenges forced a complete regroup when a mistake had been made. Skill cooldowns had to be dealt with. Strategies had to be reformed. The worst ones just showed a dead party with very little information as to what mistake has been made. Many raid challenges can be learned post-mortem, but I feel the best ones give good indicators of the challenges coming ahead.

My favorite group events in MMOs do not force a group to go full stop. They allow for recovery and a bit of learning on the go. The best ones gave me a sense of why I was being punished. When I slam in to a wall in TrackMania, I am always given the option of pressing on with an inferior score or restarting to try and take the turn with better control. It seems rare that I’m given that option in MMOs anymore. It’s become so much a “do or die” situation.

It feels in so many MMOs that I can no longer innovate on the fly. There is no time or chance for my group to internalize the situation and respond before we wipe. It no longer feels organic in many cases. Group content in conventional MMOs largely feels like hoop jumping to me. I’d rather it feel like I trail-blazed the path instead of doing exactly what the developer wanted. Even more so when the developer feels that it’s necessary to create tricky dead ends with full gameplay stop.



7 thoughts on “Full Stop”

  1. What a coincidence. I started playing Trackmania again 1 month ago and really loving it! The community and maps make this game a great value in the long term. And 2 weeks later Trackmania 2 was announced! Man, I’m so excited, they said beta is coming this summer :P

  2. There’s a fundamental difference between a “tricky shortcut” (which ideally takes not only knowledge but some skill to take full advantage of) and an environment full of “noob traps”.

  3. Great comparison. I totally agree too, too many MMO’s are do or die where restarting a raid or dungeon is the only option. They should be more forgiving in allowing us to pick up from where we faltered. Great read :D

  4. I really liked the analogy to MMO raiding, and agree with the overall assessment of that. The “full stop” raiding event is excessively abusive to the players – especially if there is an absence of “in game” clues as to what happened, or how to defeat it.

    I’m just not really a fan of it being mandatory to read a third party website in order to have any chance of success on a raid. You ought to be able to figure it out on the fly as you’re going through it.

    1. I don’t quite buy the second part of that. How else do those third-party websites figure it out than by doing the events and learning what happens? And what’s keeping you from doing the same?

      It’s not mandatory to read boss strategies, it’s convenient. It enables you to skip a part of the fight that seemingly isn’t enjoyable for a lot of people.
      Making mistakes and failing is part of how we learn, it’s just that failing isn’t much fun.

      1. I won’t even say failing is not much fun. Learning a boss IS fun (and if you disagree, why the hell are you raiding?), and very rewarding when you pull off that first kill.

        The more modern problem is that players, being overall dumb, skip that part because of shiny syndrome. The devs react, design raids that you not only need to know the strat, but also require you to be really good at Simon Says. Raiders complain about dance dance raiding. Down we go.

        For most, current raiding is like buying a book, reading the last chapter, then ‘grinding’ out the rest of the book just to put it on a list of books you’ve read. Congrats, you ruined the actual experience. Oh, and the publisher just added 10 chapters of fluff to keep you reading longer, and many will cheer because now finish the book is ‘hard’, while continuing to complain about the grind.

        Players are the reason we can’t have nice things…

      2. Games have improved in the past decades, in a raid you will get warnings “boss X is casting Y”, or visible pools open up underneath you, or a circle centered on someone, and you have time to get away from the circle. There is enough warning usually to at least make progress.

        And also, in a well designed dungeon, the trash leading up to the boss will have similar abilities, just lower power, that will be a more forgiving learning opportunity to new players.

        But surprises that have no warning, those are nothing but memorization of steps, which gets very boring. It’s just memorizing the exact same steps in a puzzle over and over. Puzzles are fun the first time, if there is only one solution they are not much fun after that first time.

        Also, I think the other difference is expectations. You know you will die in your first attempt at a boss. But in a race, you expect the racing itself to be the most difficult part. For one map to vastly change the paradigm without warning is a bit disconcerting to players.

        Personally I see no point to this track. A regular tough track is hard enough, and already rewards repeat play by getting better at each turn, or a track with secret shortcuts like plenty of games have is fun since those are optional (you won’t win, but you aren’t kept from even playing).

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