Archive for May 26th, 2007

You know what’s interesting? Pen and paper games do not have taunt. Pen and paper games couldn’t use it if they did. There is no AI, and thus no “aggro.” How come wizards and “energy projectors” and non-tanks survive without taunt in these games? After all the human DM could presumably just nuke them if he wanted to. And sometimes he has the bad guys try. But the good guys survive, including that weako squishy.


I think the answer is speed. As these games convert to real time, we lose one major thing in the translation: strategy. When I was in junior high, there was a club you could join called “Games of Strategy.” You could play checkers or chess or that stuff and some did. But most people formed groups of 7 or so and did D&D. Or later when we explained Champions to the teacher who ran it, she allowed Champions in it. These RPGs were considered games of strategy.

There is no strategy to the online versions of these games. There is occasionally a very simplistic form of tactics (“the tanker taunts, the healer heals, and the nuker nukes” — ah yes, high strategy in its most sophisticated form!). This isn’t because the players can’t do it per se, but rather, because the real time nature of these games does not allow it.

In D&D the wizard didn’t usually get creamed on round 1 because the party had time to figure out what to do, how to react, and how to protect the wizard. In real time games, you don’t have that luxury. You have a split second to taunt the purple boss or red LT. If you delay even half of that split second, your taunt will fall after his attack, and your blasters just died, and you just failed as the team tank.

I think that because we are doing real time, split second gaming (and games are getting faster and faster over time, accelerating the speed with which the player has to respond to stimuli on screen), the amount of thinking that the engine can demand of the player has to be very tiny indeed. This adds to the “excitement” or adrenaline rush in the short run, of course — but only in the short run! In the long run, gameplay has to be so simplified to allow for play to even be possible at these high speeds, that it is very repetitive, boring, and rote. Every COH battle is exactly like every other one. You click the same 3-5 buttons, in the same order, every battle, against every enemy (pretty much). The main answer to “this sequence doesn’t beat this type of enemy” is not “find another sequence” — because you CAN’T, in COH! — but rather, “Find a team mate who has a sequence that works.”

In contrast, no two Champions battles were ever the same, and no good Champions team or GM ever found itself doing the same exact thing over and over again. Ironically Champions players did not have any more attacks (in general) than a COH character does — usually a 5-slotted multipower of attacks and a few defenses were about all you had, aside from misc. powers that are rarely used, skills, and so on. But, those powers could be used much more creatively… you could bounce your energy blast off of a window. You could pick stuff up and hurl it. You could do “fastball specials” and the like. You could do this because you had time to survey the battle.. time to think creatively. If the villain was immune to all of your attacks, you could sit there and think… look at the map, look over your character sheet and the character sheet of the guy next to you… think about past battles and how you won them… Ponder, think, consider. Five minutes might go by and that was OK. And in the end you thought of a creative way to beat the guy, who 5 minutes ago, was immune to your attacks.

In COH you can’t do this. Think for 5 seconds, and you have faceplanted. Reactions are reflexive, not strategic. You play COH with your cerebellum… whereas you play D&D or Champions with your cerebrum.

Until online games — heck any computer RPG — start making us use the cerebrum more and the cerebellum less, they will all just be poor imitations that have you do the same simplistic repetitive thing over and over again — because that’s all our minds can do in fractions of a second.

Personally, I think “real time” is the bane of the online RPG. The game that can manage to get around this problem, will be the true next generation game. Nobody has yet even tried though. (NWN is close — you can PAUSE it, which lets you think just like in D&D… and with instances, I would love to see pause-able instances, but it’s never going to happen, because the gamer jock-dudes would think that’s cheating and carebearish, and any dev team that tried it would be made the laughing stock on places like MMORPG.COM.)

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