Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fat Princess Vs Feminists!
LOL!!!

Just when you thought games were going to be safe from persecution for a while (see Resident Evil 5 and racism), along comes another game to start up a gender war. This one is slightly different though. For those not in the know, Fat Princess is a game where two sides war over a captured Princess. One side is attempting to bring her back home, while the other side fights off the others and brings the Princess cake to keep her fat enough that it will slow down the other team.

Yes, one of the objectives of the game is to feed a princess cake to make her so fat that the other team cannot move her easily.

It’s absolutely brilliant and I personally can’t wait to play it after the PS3 drops in price so I can finally have a blu-ray player and perhaps also play this game. Yet, a lot of people (particularly women) are not so enthusiastic about this particular game. It seems to be the idea that feeding a princess cake and making her fat, while simultaneously having her be the victim instead of an active participant in her own escape are offensive to those with a feminist mindset. Being something of a feminist myself, I can see where they’re coming from. However, anyone offended by this game is reacting on a personal bias and is not rationally thinking this through.

What? “But it’s a Fat Princess, and it depicts women as helpless creatures who will eat cake until they reach epic proportions without so much a struggle,” they’ll say. Error! The game does not depict women as a whole as such, it depicts a single woman, and whats more, it depicts a princess in that light; a member of the aristocracy. These are important distinctions to make because clearly the message of the game is not that women are fat lazy pigs. It’s one particular character within this setting within this world.

Saying that Fat Princess is degrading to women is like saying that the mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is degrading to all women. This is a single character, not a representation of ALL WOMEN. No one cares about you enough to put a representation of you in a game and build an entire game dynamic around your female fatness just to mock you, trust me on this. I hated someone enough to mock them in Warcraft III, and it took a LOT of anger for me to do that (luckily it was subtle enough to escape anyone’s immediate attention).

If you are truly offended by this Fat Princess, you need to lighten up, just like the people who think that Resident Evil 5 is about racism towards black people. Depicting a character, scene or setting in a game is not enough for me to consider it racism or gender bias. Were they to put a sign on the fat princess that said something like: “I represent all fat women, because fat women are funny and gross, and too helpless and obese to do anything effective in this situation” then sure, I’d jump right on board.

That is not the case though. In fact, it’s something of a period piece. It’s a medieval setting where there are no women in the army, and traditionally, princess’ were trained to be helpless creatures. As an added comedic effect, they also happen to be feeding her cake to keep her unusually rotund and to hinder the enemy from moving her out of the fortress they’re attempting to protect. This is a comedic interpretation of a medieval situation, not unlike a Monty Python skit, and I for one find it fucking hilarious!

If you don’t see the humor, then perhaps you’ve missed the point…

Geeze, how did I end up defending Sony?

posted by CommanderHate at 4:09 pm  

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“What is a Game Designer?”
From Kohyunu

This is a two-parter, but the longer part is defining what a game designer is. The second part involves Bill Roper and Blizzard, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

First off, I must admit that each company defines a game designer a little bit differently. Some companies think of them purely in the level design sense, while others consider them the creative thinker of the entirety of the game. As such there are really three titles for game designers that everyone abides by. I’ll start with what most people consider the lowest on the totem pole and move to the top.

Level Designers – Level designers are the designers that are the closest to the end result of a game. They create the documentation that tells you what specific gameplay elements will take place in an area of the game. Then they craft the initial blockout of the physical space the gameplay will take place in. Then they script in the actual gameplay. Sometimes they handle some of the cinematics and it is often their responsibility to make the game “fun.” The amount of trust that a company has in its level designers can greatly impact whether the end result of a game will be fun. If the level designers feel micromanaged or that they can’t get what they need for their levels, the end product will often suck, no matter how good any previous stage of development might have been. This is why it’s critical to give level designers all the tools necessary to make a complete game.

At some companies, level designers have near complete control over the level they are crafting. For instance at Blizzard and Oddworld, the level designers could do pretty much anything they wanted as long as they hit the major story points that were handed down from the creative director. Having that sort of creative freedom will typically result in a very fun end game experience for the player, see Warcraft III or Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath for examples. If the Level Designers are micromanaged or if bosses come in and nitpick gameplay elements that they don’t understand or attempt to force gameplay into the game that doesn’t make sense for it, what you end up with is The Da Vinci Code or The Golden Compass style games (i.e. crap).

Level Designers are the heartbeat of a game. A game lives or dies by the polish and attention they give to the levels. If a level designer is concerned with the level of fun of the game, you had best listen, or you are pretty much guaranteeing the release of a turd in a box (though level designers also have a tendency to be a little too close to the product, unless of course you’ve beaten them with poor decisions to the point where they do not give a fuck anymore).

Game Designers – Believe it or not, the game designers are actually a semi-new thing in the game industry. Most designers were typically level designers or the lead designer up until a few years ago when lead designers either became less competent or the scope of games became too large for one designer to handle every aspect of the background design. What do game designers do?

They handle game balance, the design of gameplay systems and the fine-tuning of control schemes, including the documentation of all such features. Usually their job is to stay on top of things that the lead designer is too busy to handle. That is to say, at a good game company, they handle the aspects of design that the lead is too busy to undertake. At a bad game company, they deal with everything because the lead designer is likely incompetent.

Being a game designer can either be a lot of fun or a hellish nightmare vortex from which there is no escape.
This primarily has to do with the lead designer’s competence. The more competent they are, the easier and more obvious the game designer’s job becomes. The less competent the lead designer, the more difficult and hard to define the game designer’s job becomes. The reason being that a game designer without direction will often make attempts to design all of the needed gameplay systems for the game, which the bad lead designer will then see as an attempt to usurp power from them. Power struggles over core gameplay systems always end badly, and good work will be thrown out by the lead designer in an attempt to show everyone “who’s in charge.”

Within the game designer arena, there are typically a few specializations that different game companies will hire depending upon the needs of their game.

Balance DesignerThese guys deal with balancing aspects of the game. For instance in World of Warcraft, a balance designer might take all the base weapon damages for the warrior class and make sure they progress at an appropriate rate compared to paladin weapon damages.

Writer DesignerThese folks are associated with writing for video games. Some companies do not hire them at all and rely on level designers or lead designers to handle the job on the side. Other companies hire a bunch of writer designers to handle the majority of the content for the game (Bioware for instance is HUGE on hiring writer designer types).

Scripter Designer or Technical Designer – Scripting is a limited form of programming that allows designers to create gameplay experiences without getting specially made code. Scripters typically have some background in programming though if the company is making their game properly, the level designers can handle almost all aspects of scripting. It is my opinion that any game company that has more than one Scripter Designer (or more appropriately, Technical Designer) is doing it wrong and will fail. Level designers should be able to script all aspects of their level.

Other Specific Job Designer – Many game companies make specialized design positions for their particular game niches. In an MMORPG game, you might see them hire a Spawner Designer who handles the placement of creatures within the world, or an Item Designer who only deals with creating items. As MMORPGs become more and more common, you’ll see a lot of these more specific design areas open up.

Senior Designer – Senior can be appended to any design title in order to recognize someone as being particularly veteran at their job. Being a senior designer sometimesleads to the most coveted design position, the lead designer.

Lead Designer – This is usually where the initial direction and feel of the game comes from. In combination with a good artist and programmer, this is the third leg of the footstool that keeps a game fun and moving forward. That is to say, if you have a good lead designer, the game is probably going to come together nicely. The lead designer is often responsible for the initial direction of the game, the story, the gameplay, and the feel of the world. The lead designer is almost always responsible for keeping their game designers and level designers busy and more importantly, happy. A lead designer will also document the core features of a game and typically present the game idea as a whole to the rest of the company.

You can typically tell whether a game is going to be good or not simply by talking to the lead designer. If they seem to have a good design sense and really interesting ideas about what the game is going to be, the whole game is probably going to come together quite well. If they can’t make up their mind about any of the features or they don’t seem to have a solid foundation of what is good versus bad design, you are proper fucked.

A good lead designer will delegate to hungry designers areas that the lead is weak in. Most designers that make it to the lead position are well rounded and know their weak points. So where they are weak, they let others cover for them. A bad lead designer will not recognize their own areas of weakness and will try to cover every aspect themselves out of fear of being shown up. Proper delegation is key to being a good lead.

What is a Game Designer?
A game designer is an individual that deals with creating, documenting, and implementing the ideas for making a fun game.

As such, there’s a little bit of design in every field. Programmers and artists can come up with game ideas just as much as a pure game designer. However, it’s the game designer’s responsibility to make those ideas fun. If the game isn’t fun, the designer will be the one who is blamed, and rightfully so. They are responsible for all the little tweaks and polish that goes into making the game perfect.

There are some who argue that game designers are unnecessary and that programmers and artists are all you need to make a game. To a certain extent, I agree. However, if you want a fun game, you need to have a good game designer or the end product is going to be lackluster in quite a few areas. See the original Dungeon Siege as an example, or any of the early Ready at Dawn games. They’re not bad, but they just lack that certain fun factor that makes a game great.

Incompetent designers can also cause a game to lose its fun factor. The Golden Compass is the best example of this, as the gameplay and game systems in that game just seem hacked together by a simpering moron or a retarded monkey.

The point being, good ideas can come from anywhere, and it is a game designers job to recognize the good ideas and make them a reality. Coming up with ideas is definitely part of the job, but designers have to recognize when their own ideas are bad or if there is a better idea that comes to the table. It can be rough to kill your own idea (or kill your own baby as we sometimes say) but it is probably the most critical design skill you can have. If you can’t recognize good or bad gameplay from the initial idea, you fail at design.

Anyways, I did mention this was a two parter, so let’s get on to the next part of the question.

What was Bill Roper like, and was/is he a good designer/producer?

Bill Roper is a great person. He’s amicable, easy to get along with, pretty much a laugh riot. I remember seeing him at the Renaissance Fair singing lusty songs about wenches and ale and that sort of epitomizes how I see him as an individual. He’s a really cool guy on a personal level.

As a producer, he did a good job of keeping things moving. I don’t think anyone had a bad thing to say about Bill as a producer. However, Bill didn’t want to be a producer, he wanted to be a designer and that’s when things started to go wrong. Not because Bill was bad at design, but because of who he had to deal with in order to work in design.

Bill Roper had as much to do with the design of Diablo and Starcraft as any valued member of the Blizzard team did. Though he was often the face of Blizzard and the perception was that he did a lot for Blizzard games (he did the voice of the Footsoldier in Warcraft II), any single level designer contributed as much or more to those games. That’s just how it is at Blizzard. It’s a largely collaborative effort with a couple of people who usurp credit for others work either because they want it to be that way, or because they happen to be likable and in the spotlight so it ends up being perceived that way. Bill was definitely the latter.

So then Bill went to Blizzard North to work on design for the next Diablo game. The only issue was, he didn’t want to do another Diablo and neither did the rest of Blizzard North. With that in mind they showed us something they called Starblo, a product named to fail. It was basically a science fiction Diablo with all the same perspectives of Diablo II. No one was impressed. It was about then that I realized Bill had a bit of a rebellious streak in him.

I believe it was only 3-6 months after seeing Starblo that we heard about a big score of scary changes that might come down from Vivendi Games onto Blizzard. The scare revolved around how much control Blizzard would have over distribution and such, and ultimately it ended up being a big fuss over nothing. However, it was Bill Roper and the gang at Blizzard North that demanded that Blizzard North have more say over how Vivendi Games was to be run. To back up their defiance, they offered letters of resignation if their demands were not met.

Their letters of resignation were accepted and thus Blizzard North began to fall apart quite rapidly. With all of the primary leadership gone, the few who were left scrambled to piece together something to show that they weren’t a hollow shell. Their efforts produced a PVP oriented version of Diablo 2 that was not very impressive. I believe it was a year or so later that Blizzard told everyone at Blizzard North that they could move to Irvine (where Blizzard is located) and reapply for their old jobs, and that they might just get rehired. In other words, they were all fired.

Meanwhile, Bill Roper and crew formed Flagship studios and quickly strip mined the remnants of Blizzard North to assemble a team (which also contributed to the ultimate firing of everyone left at Blizzard North). They already had a new game in mind and Hellgate London quickly began to take shape. What the contributions of the individuals were at Flagship, I cannot say. I did not work there, but I imagine (given Bill’s past desire to move into design) that Bill contributed a lot.

Now, making a new studio and funding a game are not easy tasks. Not by a long shot. To make it sustainable they needed a lot more funding then their own pockets and eventually it was Hanbitsoft that came along and decided to sustain them until Hellgate London could come out. Now, again, knowing nothing of the details, this is entirely speculation, but…

Without the code base from their past games to fall back on, they now had to craft a new 3D engine, an entire massively multiplayer networking system, and almost every tool that they would have to create the game with from scratch. This is no easy task… In fact, most game companies take crappy small jobs like porting Tetris to the N64 in order to work on that sort of infrastructure on the side for several years. Flagship was having none of that and went full bore on trying to create it all at the same time.

Sadly, when a publisher is involved (like Hanbitsoft), there’s a time table you need to be concerned with. One that they would ultimately meet, but at a tremendous cost. You see without an infrastructure already established they were having to develop the tools to make the game at the same time as they would have to generate content. What you usually get is a lot of content you either have to throw away or redo.

Let me put this in perspective for you. Diablo 2 from start to finish took about 3 years. Hellgate London from start to finish was done in about 2 years. Is it any wonder it was plagued by a horde of problems? Not to me. I imagine, were it given another 2 years of development (with 1 year being entirely devoted to tools and infrastructure) it would have been a far superior product (and let’s keep in mind it still got a 71 on Metacritic, no easy feat).

So whatever Bill Roper’s contribution to the game, do I think that it’s somehow his fault that Hellgate London has not lived up to its expectations? Not in the slightest. I’d be willing to bet he put his heart and soul into that game, but without the proper time for those efforts to be allowed to flourish, there was little hope that Hellgate could be the blockbuster it might have been. How much of Hellgate’s lackluster appearance is Bill’s fault? No more than any member of the team that contributed to the game.

Games are the effort of many people working together. No one individual can be said to matter more than another. Without a tools programmer, a level designer’s job becomes extremely difficult. Without a good artist, a brilliant game idea may never work out. In the case of Hellgate London, Bill Roper just happens to be the most charismatic and well known person on the team. You can’t blame him for Hellgate’s problems just because he makes the most public appearances.

As to his design skills, I honestly don’t know. =)

posted by CommanderHate at 1:21 am  

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Need More Questions

Just a reminder that I’ve opened up Gamerhate to user questions. You can ask me anything about the game industry, be as specific or general as you like. Want to know the best way to break into the game industry? I have a few ideas… Want to know what Rob Pardo of Blizzard fame is like to work with? I’ll tell you.

Consider this your chance to learn all the nitty gritty details of the game industry that you can never find from any news site. Honestly it’s just much easier for me to answer questions than develop my own topics, so yes, I’m being lazy. However, in the interests of keeping things interesting, I think it’s better for the topics to come from you guys, so I know I’m not prattling on about something only I care about. This way, I know at least 2 people care.

posted by CommanderHate at 5:15 pm  

Monday, July 14, 2008

“Why do game save systems suck?”
From Alex

Alex has taken issue with a perceived trend of poor save systems in modern games. Particularly he points out that Mass Effect had a miserable save system. However, I disagree with that assessment. Mass Effect actually has what every game should have. Both an auto-save system and a user enabled save system.

There are really only a few types of save systems. So let’s briefly (as much as I can be brief) discuss each one so we’re all clear on what they are. Oh, and as to what I mean by a save system, it’s a system that saves the state of your game, so that when you return to it, you can continue playing from where you left off.

Lives – Or No Real Save System

Classic games have no save system. If you go back and play the original Super Mario Brothers or most arcade classics, you instead have lives. Lives allow you to restart at the level you died in without having to start the whole game over. However, if you restart the system, the power goes out or you lose all your lives, you have to start the game from the very beginning. As I recall from my youth, that usually coincided with a great resounding “FUUUUUUUUCK” along with the sound of a controller being hucked across the room and slamming into a wall. No save systems = true frustration.

On the flip side though, you truly had to master a game back in those days. You couldn’t fat finger your way through every encounter because if you died anywhere within a level you would have to do that level over again (often a dozen times in a row if you really sucked). This forced you to memorize patterns and improve your reflexes. Of course, the real reason they did this was to make you feed more quarters into a machine. The home console made it necessary to find a less stressful way for the player to get through a game they just paid 20-40 bucks for.

Secret Code Saves

When Metroid came out for the Nintendo, they had something I had never seen before. A way to start the game with all your hard-earned gear, even after you’ve died or turned the system off. Whenever you would die, it would give you a code. When you entered the code you got to start the game in the same area that you died in with all the goodies you’d already collected. Of course, if you wrote down the 24 alpha-numeric password wrong, you were totally screwed. Definitely not a perfect system, especially when there was already a better save methodology out there.

Limited User Saves

When RPGs became all the rage, they shifted to a limited user save functionality. That is, the user can choose to save the game in one of a X slots as long as they’re either on a save point area (like the globes in FFVII) or if they’re on the overland map (like in early Final Fantasy games). Of course, this system relied on the user remembering to save the game. So the potential was there (and this happened to me on more than one occasion) to play for many many hours, never save, then die and lose all your progress. Literally hours of gameplay could be lost. Many gamers wouldn’t even bother trying again after that. Luckily that was in my youth or else Phantasy Star II, Final Fantasy 3 (u.s. release) and several others might have gone unplayed.

Checkpoints or Automagic Saves

As games became more complex and developers realized that losing progress was no fun and that relying on the user to save the game at important points was probably not going to happen (primarily because a user can’t predict a ridiculously hard gameplay moment coming up), they decided to start saving the game for the player. Traditionally this is known as checkpoints, because as you reach a certain point in the game where the developer thinks things might get hairy or after you’ve achieved a milestone point within the game, the game will automatically save so you don’t have to worry about it. This system really worked well whenever it came into existence, though it did rely heavily on the developer understanding what would be frustrating for a player.

Quite honestly, it’s hard to think of when checkpoints came into being exactly, because I can’t imagine how frustrating a game that doesn’t use them would be. Any game worth its salt should have some sort of Checkpoint system in it.

Unlimited User Saves or Save Anywhere

This is my personal favorite save system. You can save anywhere in the game at any time you like for any reason what-so-ever. This has been (in the past) a primarily PC only save system due to the practically limitless space of a PC hard drive. However, with the recent consoles having hard drives themselves, this has become a lot more common in games. Bioshock, Portal and many other games have unlimited save functionality. In the past this type of system has been used, but you were limited in space so you often had to save over an old save in order to keep your progress. Not bad, but not as good as completely unlimited saves.

Modern Day Saving Systems

So let’s take a look at Mass Effect’s save system. They have 2 systems working here, a checkpoint save system and a user save anywhere system. That’s pretty damn good in my book, but it seems that people got frustrated with the game. Let’s take a look at one user’s complaint to see what’s going on.

"Almost at the end of Ilos and I reload the save I've been using,
unfortunately it spawns the Mako underneath the damn level, hanging
from one wheel that's stuck in the geometry. 
Ah
well, I'll just go back to an autosave. Surely there must be one
somewhere, like at the hologram. What's that? The only autosave was all
the way at the freaking beginning when I first land on the planet? 

You could've at least put an autosave midway through. Did that not occur to anyone while playtesting this?"
-Confidence Man Sunday, 02 December 2007 10:50PM

So what happened to this poor guy? Well, he was the unfortunate victim of a bug. A bug whereby one of his saves had the vehicle he needed for the level spawn under the world. This is a bug within the code that we will never be able to figure out on our own, but for the sake of our argument about save systems sucking, let’s say that it has something to do with the save code.

Yeah, that sucks, a bug got through to the end product. It happens though, and there’s little that can be done. The fault here has little to do with the design of the save system however. The game has unlimited saving potential whenever the user wants, AND it has checkpoints whenever you land on a planet. While it’s not perfect, it’s not bad. What was bad was some errant line of code that screwed up what the save system wanted to do. That’s unfortunate, but no matter how much Quality Assurance you put a game through, you’ll never find every bug. It’s simply impossible. Particularly in a save anywhere system. You can never predict what fucked up shit the end user is going to do.

So what is the perfect save system? Does it even exist? Mass Effect actually isn’t far off, if it weren’t for a related bug I’m sure there wouldn’t have been as much anger as there was surrounding its save feature. However, Mass Effect was not perfect, they needed more checkpoints or something like that. What save system is better?

Automagic Saves Before a Death Point

If you have not played Portal, you are remiss in your duties as a gamer. Portal has so many extremely good things going for it, that to not play it from beginning to end is a travesty. One of its most amazing and helpful features are its automagic saves. I can’t quite figure out how they’ve done it, but no matter where I die in the game, I am restarted no less than 10 seconds from where I ganked myself or blew a jump. It’s quite amazing because the frustration that a loss of progress would have caused is almost entirely gone in that game. There was only one or two segments where I had to repeat more than 30 seconds of gameplay in order to beat the section I was having trouble with, and it’s almost entirely because of their automagic saves.

But if you wanted to save midjump, they had another ingenious system overlayed on top of that.

Quicksave

So far I’ve only seen this in FPS games and their ilk, but Half Life is the first one I noticed it in. You can save your exact point in the game with the push of a single button. Then if you want to reload it, you push another button. You can save right in the middle of a fall without panicking as you try to navigate menus or removing yourself from the gameplay. There’s a slight hiccup as it saves, but as this system is perfected, I bet that will go away.

Other Ideas

However, my favorite game’s save feature is not a save feature at all. Braid‘s time travelling mechanic obsoleted the need for saving anywhere within a level. If you screw up and die, you rewind time. It’s so elegant I nearly wept when I first experienced it. True this won’t work for all games, in fact it probably won’t work for any game except Braid and possibly its sequels (assuming there are any), but it’s exactly the type of thinking that can save games from having to use the same tired save systems again and again.

I think that Portal is pretty much the closest thing to the pinnacle of save systems we’ll ever see for games. It can only be improved a tiny bit more before there’s nothing left to do with it except copy it exactly for every game thereafter. It will take a whole new line of thinking to obsolete saves entirely and create a new way of experiencing a game. Braid during its actual gameplay is a good example of this in action (perhaps the only example).

So, why do game save systems suck? Because they’re preventing game designers from thinking in new directions. They’re too easy to just copy and paste into your game. We need to start thinking in a new way if we really want to advance game design as a whole instead of just improving on what’s already there. As far as saving systems go, we’ve got it down. Let’s try something else. =)

posted by CommanderHate at 5:42 pm  

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Question: “What, if anything, can kill WOW?”
From Technohazard

Well I never thought the first question would be THIS easy. 😉

If you’re looking for something to kill WoW, there’s a very easy and obvious answer to what will finally topple this giant of the MMO games. If you’re thinking it’s a better MMO, you’re wrong. Let me give you a little background on where MMOs came from.

Back in “the day” (TM), if you wanted to hang out with the on-line community, you had to use a modem. A modem used your phone line to connect to another computer that allowed for multiple incoming calls to be maintained at once. These were called BBS, or Bulletin Board Systems. When they started, they were just for having forum discussions, but eventually they started using them for games. One of the most popular types of games was called a MUD.

MUD stands for Multi-User Dungeon. When MUDs started they were entirely text based. In fact, they were a lot like the old classic adventure games where you would walk North by typing N and hitting enter. My personal favorite was called Crossroads, where you could multi-class in different elemental power types.

Anyways, the MUDs were wildly popular among people who knew anything about BBS systems. Of course, most people didn’t. Then the internet became more and more popular and graphical interfaces for games became required. It wasn’t until about 5 years later that a MUD would meet a GUI and really click with the public though.

That game was called Everquest. Everquest was my first foray into a graphical MUD, or as they became known, a MMORPG or Massively Multiplayer On-line Role Playing Game. Everquest became an obsession for many at Blizzard, and we all played it to the detriment of our jobs. I was definitely not a hardcore player by any means, but I devoted nearly 4-6 months of ACTUAL PLAY TIME over the course of the 3 years I played it. When I did quit, I had to remove it from all my computers, smash the discs, and swear an oath to never touch the damnable thing again.

A couple years later I picked up the game again and played a Shaman to the upper 60s, but the game soon became frustrating enough to never even want to play it again. You could not solo in that game. You had to be in a group, and it was very difficult to find a good group because anyone decent was already at the level cap. The game became so frustrating that I quit without even really caring. I never returned to Everquest after that.

But at Blizzard, the passion for MMOs was only beginning, and since the team played that game so frequently, it became an obsession for them to create a better MMO that would rival and even defeat Everquest. Sadly a game I was much more interested in was cancelled as a result. Nomad, you will be missed.

When WoW started development, I had little interest in playing. Having just gotten over an Everquest addiction, I found the very idea of playing another MMO repulsive. The grind to reach the higher levels was ridiculous, and the penalties for death in EQ were extremely harsh. You could cycle die all the way back to level 1 if you bound yourself over lava. Everquest made a lot of poor game design decisions, but the fact was, there wasn’t another game in town that even came close to its immersion. Which is why making World of Warcraft made sense for Blizzard.

What World of Warcraft had was a good design sense. Sure, there were mistakes made (like slow typing the text out on the quests to force players to read them) but they fixed them in relatively short order. WoW had all the immersion of Everquest without the super hardcore under theme that Everquest had. This was an MMO that everyone could sink their teeth into and enjoy.

Indeed, it has been quite the success story. Millions are playing WoW and shelling out 15 dollars a month for that privilege. No other MMO has ever come close to their success and I doubt there will be many afterwards that will unless they’re not fantasy based (Starcraft MMO anyone?). However, something is brewing within the lands of Azeroth that will topple the mighty WoW empire within the next couple years.

As you may have noticed, WoW has had 1 expansion and 90% of the content for the expansion was content for the additional levels they added. In fact, no new classes have been developed for WoW as of yet (though the Burning Crusade promises one, it is a “hero class” meaning that it starts at level 55 (seeing as how there’s going to be no content for it 1-55, that makes sense).

In addition, the majority of the content when you reach the end level for the game is Raid content, which requires multiple competent people to get together to defeat a large enemy. This is one of WoW’s major flaws, because the people who enjoy raids are probably about 10% of their customer base. Raids are a major source of frustration for most people as they don’t want to play the way that is necessary to accomplish things in a raid (meaning being extremely attentive for 2-6 hours at a time).

The other way to spend your end time in the game is to fight in the arena or battlegrounds. Both of which are hardcore situations due to the competitive nature of being placed against opponents. Either way, you lose anyone who isn’t a fairly hardcore gamer in your end content. A lot of what the casual gamers enjoy is the easy and fun questing system that WoW has. But that content dries up quickly or often becomes a series of collection quests instead of individualized and super interesting quests. For example, the first 10-20 quests in the Burning Crusade expansion were totally awesome. Who doesn’t remember sifting through poop or dropping bombs while flying?

The problem is, that content dries up and you can only play through the game so many times before there’s really nothing you haven’t seen. Will the next expansion hit before you’ve reached the max level for the current game? Most of us have been at the level cap for many months. Let’s face it, WoW is an easy game to level through which is a good thing because leveling up is the thing that keeps people playing. Some people will make multiple characters to keep their addiction going, others will get into the hardcore raid content (though if they turn out to be slackers, they’ll fail repeatedly or be booted by their guild). A few more will take to ganking n00bs for hours… Assholes…

At the end of the day though, the lands of Azeroth will begin to become stale. The players have seen it all and done it all, and the thought of grinding through the old levels as a new character will no longer appeal to them. The thought of grinding experience at all in fact will not appeal to them. You see, the major flaw of all MMORPGs (to date) is that the actual gameplay is not all that appealing. When you really think about it, what are you doing? You’re standing in front of a computer generated object and hitting buttons to kill it. Yes, there’s more strategy to it than that, but how many times do you have do it before it becomes annoying? 100? 1000? 1,000,000?

What I learned from my MUDs was true for Everquest and is also true for World of Warcraft. Once you realize what you’re doing and how much time you’re spending doing it, the game ceases to be fun. Expansions can’t keep up with the need for new content once you reach the level cap, and those who are super casual may never reach the previous level cap at all, instead choosing to make a new character whenever the game becomes too difficult. What you develop is a rift.

The hardcore players will crank straight to the max level in a few days (with no sleep). The super casuals will never quite catch up because just as they get close (if they ever do) there are more levels stacked on top or the game becomes too difficult for them so they restart. The regular casual players aren’t good enough to raid and their equipment pales in comparison to the hardcore battleground and arena junkies, thus making them unable to have fun in any of the end game content.

So to answer the question (finally), what will ultimately end up killing WoW is time. When you finally do quit an MMO, the act of quitting is typically so final and decisive that you will never choose to play again (those who had extreme addictions will never play another MMORPG again). Some might periodically return for each expansion, but that’s typically the hardcore types who will burn through the content in a month and then realize they’re back where they started. The super casuals were already frustrated by the original jump in levels so they won’t bother. The regular casuals might give it a try, but the end content of WoW is still super competitive arena/battlegrounds OR Raids, neither of which appeal to the regular casual players.

There doesn’t need to be a bigger and better MMO to crush WoW. WoW will eventually crush itself under the heel of the design flaws of MMORPGs. Once you realize that you’re grinding, the game ceases to be fun. Once the new content is absorbed, the game ceases to be fun. If you can’t raid and you can’t compete with the hardcore in PVP, the game ceases to be fun. Eventually, everyone realizes this despite all the addictive elements of character building. Eventually, everyone realizes that if they’re going to play a game, they may as well play something that’s actually fun to play…

posted by CommanderHate at 1:15 pm  

Monday, July 7, 2008

Opening Up To The Public
Or
I’m Tired of Coming Up With All The Topics

So, I felt it. I’m pretty sure anyone who reads here regularly felt it, but I’m starting to slow down on the topics. One of the most difficult tasks for a writer starting from almost nothing is finding a topic you’re passionate about and starting to write. Thus, I’ve come up with a better way for me to regularly get on-point and interesting articles about the game industry written for all of you.

I’m opening up Gamer Hate to reader questions. If you have a question about game development, games, or specific industry related stuff (like how to get a job, what’s Chris Metzen like in person, or how long did Warcraft III really take to make and how many iterations did it go through), send that question to commanderhate@gmail.com.

I can’t promise I’ll answer every question, but I will do a minimum of one a week. This is going to be a lot easier for me as I find it much easier to answer a question in depth than to write a topic from scratch. I may or may not post information about the question asker, but if you ask to remain anonymous, I will respect your wishes.

So, there you go, a 10 year game industry veteran has opened the doors to any and all questions about the game industry and its related fields (as well as any topics of knowledge specific to my experiences). I will likely still have my own topical posts, but hopefully this will allow me to post a lot more frequently without feeling frustrated that the topic I’ve chosen is a little… uhh… lackluster. Like this one for instance. 😉

posted by CommanderHate at 8:49 am  

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Braid is Now on XBLA for Developers

As I’ve mentioned previously, Braid is a side scrolling puzzle game reminiscent of Super Mario Bros that I really enjoyed playing an early version of. I can only imagine that after several months of polish, it’s an even better experience. If you are a game developer with a 360 dev kit, you can grab it off XBLA right now. I can assume this means it will be available to the public fairly soon…

posted by CommanderHate at 10:51 am  

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