Archive for August 19th, 2011

Stop, Drop and Loot

One more set of thoughts spurred by World of Warcraft… though I stopped playing a week ago.

With Thumpin retired, I thought I’d play a Warrior for a little bit to see how Warrior tanking felt at low levels.  (I can’t really explain my current fascination with tanking, but it’s actually kinda fun, especially with a Bear Druid, all up front and fiesty.)  The Paladin toolbox is multifaceted, like a Druid’s, effectively letting one fill any of the “holy trinity” roles.  Thing is, compared to a Warrior, a Paladin loses focus.  Since character abilities are parceled out on a drip feed as a character levels, and the pace is somewhat consistent between classes, the Paladin (and Druid) has to cover three potential roles with the same raw number of abilities that a Warrior can use to devote to two roles (the Paladin gets 14 abilities at level 20, and the Warrior gets 13 and a passive Parry ability).  As such, a Warrior will naturally have more “DPS” and tanking tools than a level-comparable Paladin.  At high levels, with a sufficiently large toolbox, a Paladin more or less catches up simply because tanking doesn’t require a ton of tools, and even at 20, they have decent tanking tools… but Warriors naturally have more at that level.

So, Glumpin the Orc Warrior was born.  (I’ve lost the account information I used to play Mortiphoebe, so she’s still off on her own adventure.)  As it happened, I never actually got around to tanking with him, as I was thoroughly tired of the game by that point, but maybe I’ll go back someday.  In the meantime, though, the playstyle of a Warrior did make me think of something else, hence the post title.

Y’see, a Warrior seems designed to be a wrecking ball that functions best when it just keeps killing.  The “rage” mechanic (fuel for a Warrior’s combat abilities, generated by hitting stuff or being hit, mostly) means a Warrior thrives on combat, and indeed, only works best in the thick of things.  The ability Victory Rush is a nice little attack with some self-healing attached, but it’s only available for a short while after killing something.  A Warrior really wants to just be wading into battle every waking moment.  It’s a nice thematic design, and it makes playing a Warrior different from playing a careful, self-healing Paladin.

And yet, there’s this “looting” process that slows everything down a bit.  WoW trains you to rifle through the pockets or parts of whatever you kill in the hopes of material gain.  It’s actually usually a pretty quick process, but it’s a pause in the action, something that throws off the tempo.  This was most apparent with the Warriors I’ve played, as they really don’t want to be stopping to deal with the defeated, they want to go kill more things.  They want to Kill All The Things, not scavenge around like a Goblin panhandler.

So naturally, I compared that to Torchlight.  That game showers the heroes with loot and money like other arcadey dungeon crawlers (Diablo being a big influence on the genre, of course), but unlike others, your character automagically picks up the money that foes drop, simply by walking over it.  (I say automagically because the avatar doesn’t automatically bend over and pick it up, the money just appears in their pack.)  You still have to click to pick up other loot (and there’s plenty of it), but some of the process has been automated.  My guess is that someone in the pipeline figured that picking up money is a “decisionless action” and just automated it (who doesn’t pick up money, after all?).  Programmers love to do that sort of thing.  Since picking up lower quality loot can often be just a waste of time (OK, a relative waste… this is gaming after all), there might be some decisions made to leave “vendor trash” in the dungeon, so picking up non-money loot was left as a player action.

Of course, at some level, one might wonder why and how random bears and boars carry coins and/or mundane and magical gear, but we’re already down the rabbit hole there.  It’s best not to think about some things.

I also compare and contrast with games like Ratchet and Clank or Mega Man, where gameplay is all about the action, but baddies still drop goodies on defeat.  In those games, though, the loot is picked up simply by running into it.  Of course, neither has a direct analogue to WoW’s gear system, but the emphasis on action and how that affects actual gameplay is what I’m looking at here.

There’s also the RPG design ethos, with varying shades of “looting”, all the way from games where looting is often just assumed, like Final Fantasy games where you just gather the spoils automatically after combat, to something like Darkfall, which I’ve never played, but apparently has a more visceral looting system where you have to drag everything into your pack.  The range of “realism” in the looting systems is pretty wide, and each has an effect on the pacing of the gameplay.

So what if an MMO were more streamlined like a Final Fantasy offline game?  Maybe there is one out there that does this, I just don’t know of one (and there are a lot I don’t know about, so this is more about my gap in knowledge than anything).  It seems to me that an action-based game might benefit from a loot system that doesn’t require the player to stop what they are doing to pick stuff up.  My WoW Warrior might be happier if he could just go Kill Stuff without worrying about scraping together enough coin to pay the class trainers.

Maybe that means a reputation-based economy, where reputation is “spent” on gear back in town, or faction outfitters who set up characters with relevant gear.  Maybe characters just carry around first aid kits and some consumables.  Maybe it means no gear at all.  There are a lot of directions to go with this… and it still baffles me a little bit that we’re still stuck with the “kill, loot, vendor” cycle.

But, but, what of the lottery drops?  Y’know, those little things that make you say “YEAH! I totally got that rare drop that made my 8 hours of play so much more than a Skinner exercise!”  Maybe that’s just the province of treasure chests that the baddies were guarding.  Maybe reputation factions have rich patrons you can appeal to via quests or pure luck of the draw, and they operate like other landed gentry; randomly granting largess to the underlings.  Maybe today, it’s a fantastic sword.  Maybe tomorrow, it’s a shiny little bauble they have no use for (but naturally makes your character better).  Maybe they heard that you defeated the Ugly Hag of Urgurgle and they just happened into this lovely helmet that they have no use for and wouldn’t you just love to have it-howzabout-I-sign-it-for-you?  Seems like there’s storytelling potential there, too, whether it’s a genially insane upper class to please or a pantheon of unpredictable deities, there’s plenty of opportunity to create in-world lottery mechanics.

I’m thinking of pacing, mostly, but looking at why players do what they do does opens opportunities to make the mechanics match the message, and to enhance the playstyle, storytelling and worldbuilding of a RPG.  If a Warrior wants to just always be going, going, going, perhaps there’s opportunity there to let them do so, beyond just their hotbar abilities.

Read Full Post »