“Video Games” run a theoretical spectrum from almost purely mechanical beasties like FoldIt to barely interactive… things, like Dear Esther, Trauma or one of those atrocious “Full Motion Video” games from days best forgotten. I’m not certain that you could ever have something purely mechanical with no context, and something purely narrative with no input wanders off into “Movie” territory. I’ve written before on some of what I think games are and what they perhaps should be, even specifically about narrative in games. There’s a blog devoted entirely to the notion, and many others that are quite eloquent about game design.
So… yeah, nothing really new to offer on that count, but I did want to highlight a post from Tobold today. He’s writing about skill requirements in WoW over thisaway.
I was going to comment there, but it got long and linky, so I brought it here. I think that putting level, group size and skill gates on content that completes the WoW narrative is asking for angst. I see two major avenues to relieve the stress:
1. Give raids several levels of difficulty for the same content, from an uncapped zergfest to solo.
2. Pull the narrative out of raids. (Alternatively, drop dev narrative, but that’s not going to happen.)
In any discussion of raiding and the dichotomy between the elites (self-defined, of course) and the unwashed hordes (the other guys, no matter their actual skill level), I think it’s also crucial to split the discussion of playing content from receiving rewards. (It’s also worth noting that I say “playing content”, not “watching content on YouTube”; they aren’t the same thing.)
I am all for special rewards for demonstrating skill. To me, that’s the essence of gaming, developing skills, learning game systems, and being rewarded for it with further tools to explore the game systems. The whole “play for a while, watch a cutscene, repeat ad nauseum” design we see in a Final Fantasy RPG uses narrative as a lure and reward for grinding through the game, which is far less satisfying to me than expanding the gameplay itself. I do love most Final Fantasies and many other RPGs, but that’s usually because there’s some good gaming under the hood. The story is only tangential to what I think of when I play these games.
…and yet, I do like the story and characters sometimes. I’m one of those that bought Advent Children and actually like it (yes, it’s cheesy, yes, it has problems, yes, I still like it). I don’t want to go back and play through Final Fantasy VII to see that story, but I’d probably happily go through a tour of the cutscenes and crucial story points. Yeah, I had fun with the chocobo racing and materia wrangling when I played the game, but I won’t do it again just for the story.
Maybe that makes me a terrible, no good, awful tourist or consumer or something, but hey, I did buy Advent Children, and I bought almost every Final Fantasy, so I’m a customer.
Point being, these “game” things we play tend to be a mishmash of interaction and passive fluff. If the fluff is going to be important to all of your players, they need to be able to get to it. I see no problem gating loot and even some game mechanics behind skill tests, because that’s what gaming pretty much is. I’m not a fan of gating fluff behind skill checks, especially if you’re trying to build up a narrative that you want players to care about.
RPGs tend to alleviate that by letting players overlevel content, RTS games allow cheat codes and so on… MMOs have no such release valve for raiding. Even the much-vaunted (or vilified) Looking For Raid doesn’t open the gates much, and what it does do tends to just mash together more people with different gameplay goals, always a stressful thing.
I’m not convinced that dev narrative needs to be the “fourth pillar” or dev focus for MMOs, but if it’s going to be important, it has to be accessible to as many players as possible.
Oh, and latebreaking but oh-so-relevant, Mass Effect 3 and multiplayer… apparently, the “best” ending demands multiplayer. Ick. Bad designer, no twinkie.