Posts Tagged ‘skill’

I greatly enjoy playing volleyball.  I’m passingly good at it, though less because of sheer physical prowess and more because of good reflexes and situational awareness… and no small amount of tactical guile.  I’ve reached an odd plateau in the game, though.

I used to play with others who were better at the game than I am.  They inspired and taught me how to play better, and the most fun that I had playing was when I was learning new tricks.  Lately, just because of life’s various circumstances, I am almost always the best player in the groups I find myself in.  I’ve almost stopped learning… and the game simply isn’t as much fun any more.

Indeed, sometimes it’s flatly painful.  I see players making bad mistakes and flagrantly ignoring rules of the game.  I think of myself when I was starting, and remember that I learned to mold myself to the rules and improve my abilities within their parameters.  When I learned how to play, you could only touch the ball with parts of your body above your waist.  Period.  These days, pretty much anything goes, and you can hit the ball with any part of your body.  Many players consequently wind up with lazy footwork and presence of mind, and simply kick the ball if it moves low, leading to weaker ball control.  Similarly, serves once were faults if they touched the net.  These days, if the ball hits the net on the way over, it’s still legal. The game is much sloppier as a result, and that’s the official play (college rules).  If it’s sloppy at higher levels, it’s perfectly natural to see sloppy play at lower levels.  Core rules like carrying and double hits are routinely ignored.  It’s… disheartening.

Sure, players are still having fun, but it’s just not the same game that I grew to love.

I miss seeing players who want to get better and really exert themselves to do so.  Too many are content to just play as an excuse to socialize instead of really strive for excellence.

…sound familiar, grumpy MMO veterans?

Of course, I find myself on the lower end of the skill curve in MMOs, especially running dungeons with groups.  I’m still learning the best way to approach things.  Thing is… I am still learning, still making the effort.  (At least, when I feel like playing an MMO with other people.)  That’s why I’ve started tanking a little bit in the F2P WoW, and will try a tank in RIFT.  I’m expanding my skillset, exploring the game mechanics.  I’m simply not content to just sit back and do the same old thing all the time.  My aspirations are higher than just getting by.  This is simply part of my psychological makeup.  I can’t coast for long, I have to keep trying to be better.

Sometimes my simple lack of skill can come across as a bad attitude, but they are not the same thing.  I’m not looking to coast or be carried, I’m looking to pull my own weight and then some.  The numbers don’t always tell the whole story, though, especially when situational awareness is important.  (Say, when I’m playing as a Hunter or Mage with enemy control/disruption tactics… my damage dealing can fall off as I attend to tactical problems, but if I don’t pay attention, well, bad things happen.)

I wonder if this sort of systemic gradual decay of skill is expected in any long-running endeavor.  …but then, I see the three point line extended in the NBA, and I think there’s some push for skill at higher levels, at least in that game.  I don’t think that descent into a morass of lazy play is inevitable, at least not institutionally.  Socially, however, in order to appeal to an ever-widening playerbase, some “wussification” of the ruleset is going to happen.

So it’s not really all that surprising to see the tension in MMO design; they want to be supremely social games, living or dying on their communities… but there will always be those who want to push the envelope and actually excel at something.  The two impulses are strongly opposed… and I don’t think we’ll ever really reconcile the two.  I actually don’t think we should try, either, because that lukewarm water in the middle just doesn’t make anyone happy.  Those who just want to coast don’t function on the same wavelength as those who want to push themselves.  Whether or not that’s healthy is perhaps a sociological debate, but in the meantime, I’m convinced that a game simply can’t cater to both groups with the same content or mechanics, and there need to be better ways to get people together based on playstyle and aspiration, rather than by level, loot or some other extrinsic motivation.

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Whee, another collection of links!  Yes, I feel lazy because of it, but there’s just so much going on that I wanted to highlight.  Plenty of good discussions going on lately in game design.

Eric poked the beehive thisaway:

Class vs. Open Skill Systems

I don’t care for his tone.  I don’t agree with his assertions, either about players or designers.  It’s worth reading, though.

Naturally, others have responded.

Ysharros: Classless is a pain in the assless

Jason: The Skills of EVE

Psychochild: Stay Classy

The Rampant Coyote: Defending the Lack of Class

I find myself largely agreeing with Brian (Psychochild).  In fact, I wrote about a hybrid system before:

Autopilot Character Development

Similarly, Big Bear Butt has taken a stab at the trinity of WoW combat roles, spurring some good discussion about where things might go if we open up a little.  It’s a fantastic article that echoes a lot of my own thoughts on the matter:

The Unholy Trinity

It’s no secret to anyone who reads around here for much that I’m a firm believer in agency for gamers.  To me, that’s the point of gaming.  Blizzard’s tendency to angle in the other direction might be better for some things (development schedule, balancing), but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way or the best way for everyone.  There’s even a subtle undercurrent of resentment afoot these days against the restricted agency, diagnosed interestingly thisaway:

The Cataclysmic WoW Disease

Players want to make choices.  If they didn’t, they would watch a movie.  To be sure, there’s a difference between problems and choices, and some have different tolerances for each, but I believe that gamers want more than barely interactive movies.  Learning is a core component of gaming, and when choices are made for you, there’s less to learn.   At least, that’s one theory.

One recurring theme I see is the idea that classes are easier to balance than an open skill system.  On that I agree, but the difference is small.  As Brian has noted, balance is hard.  Period.  Also, as he and The Rampant Coyote suggest, it’s best to look at what you want to do with your game first and then balance around that.  Choosing a game design for ease of balance (a mirage at best) is a valid strategy, but not necessarily the best way to make the best game you want to make.  It’s certainly not the Only One True Path of Game Design or even game success.

I go further to suggest that Balance is overrated.  You will never have perfect balance. Even Chess, where both players have the same pieces, isn’t balanced, as players take turns (chronological imbalance), and the Queen and King are situated differently per side.  Even Go has the chronological imbalance.  That’s just the game design, never mind potential huge imbalances in player skill.  (Though I’d note that with enough turns, chronological imbalances diminish in importance.  Similarly, with enough choices, the impact of any one imbalance can be minimized.)

Further, even if we’re going to make one of those huge baseless scientific assumptions that class balance can be perfected, we’re still talking about MMOs that have a huge power band, big variances in gear, significant differences in player skill and even hardware issues.  These things will never be balanced.  That’s not a reason not to try to provide a level playing field for gameplay that likes it (PvP, for instance), and you can certainly do worse than to aim for something approaching balance, but balance can’t be the shrine at which agency and fun are sacrificed.

Life’s not fair.  Get over it.

It’s OK (and even healthy) to have gimped choices, so long as those choices can be changed easily.  Mark Rosewater of Magic the Gathering fame, has even noted that they intentionally design sub-par cards so that players can make choices.  Sometimes, even those “bad cards” wind up synergizing with other cards in new and interesting ways, making for a lot more fun than a bland, whitewashed balanced system.  This is important for game design; for players to be able to make choices, they need to have options.  That means there will inevitably be some bad choices.  Designers have to have the self-control to let players make those choices.

…and then the mercy to let them change their choices and learn from their mistakes, to help them dust off, learn something, and go try again.  That’s play.  That’s fun.  If the designers are making all the choices, players are missing out.

To be sure, an MMO is different from a brief MtG duel or game of Chess, but I’d argue that the long time investment in these games is greater incentive to give choice in play other than “reroll, noob”, especially when rerolling costs time and money.

… more on balance later.  Gotta go draw some stuff for it.  In the meantime, go check out those links and the discussions afoot.  Most are more interesting than my blather anyway.

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