Monday, March 15, 2010

Rob Pardo of Blizzard Explains Why I'd Hate WoW

So my wife and several of our friends are huge World of Warcraft players, and dutifully plunk down their $14.95 a month to add to Blizzard Entertainment's coffers (which I can only even remotely justify by my fantasy that they're using the money to finance a secret private space program which will eventually put NASA out of the business of ferrying people and equipment to orbit, but I digress).

I found this presentation by Rob Pardo, who is apparently some sort of muckety-muck at Blizzard Entertainment (the executive vice-president of game design, so the presentation tells me), the folks who create and run World of Warcraft. In it, he goes through some of the design philosophies that underlie the way they approach the design of their game. And in so doing, he gives a quick bullet-point presentation of why I would absolutely loathe World of Warcraft. It is, in a nutshell, the anti-OSR.

Some of these criticisms are going to naturally apply to all such MMORPG's, as there are simply limits they cannot avoid. However, if those limits prevent me from playing (or, perchance, designing) a game that I'd like to play, I'm going to dump on them. But nobody said this was a fair blog, now did they? In the order in which they are presented...
The challenge is to keep players jumping through the correct hoops, while making those hoops fun.
Okay, you lost me at "jumping through the correct hoops". I don't want there to be correct hoops. I want there to be a million hoops, and most of them aren't "correct". Save the hoops for the trained poodles; I want to explore a world and be able to exercise some influence upon it. That's fun, capiche?
keep game play simple in terms of mechanics and objectives, but design the game in a way that the challenges scale with the ability of play
The whole idea of "the challenges scale with the ability of play" annoys me. Sometimes things are just meant to be run away from, period. You're a second level fighter and you come on a dragon? It's not going to be a very young dragon just because you're second level, but ancient if you were 15th. The environment should not alter just because it is first encountered by someone who is of a particular level, or class, or what have you. The environment simply is. And, in that same bullet-point, they say that they had consciously designed their :
death penalty as a 'tax' of sorts where you'd have to pay to repair your gear,
So that death isn't death at all. Absolutely no investment in the character. Why bother? There's no risk. And where there's no risk, there's no real reward. Just bang on the keys enough times, and you'll reach 60th level.
But from a development standpoint, if the majority of your player base is using addons to modify the existing UI, that's a clue that something wasn't quite right with the way the UI was originally designed.
And here I get a real sense of the WoW designers (or maybe it's MMORPG designers in general; it really makes no difference to me) as control freaks with insecurity issues. "Oh noes! Someone is viewing our game in a way we didn't intend!" Could it not simply be that different people have different needs, and preferences, and that designing something with a stripped-down UI in the first place, that actually encouraged the players to design their own modifications, might be a valid way of doing things? It'd be the equivalent of designing a game where it was almost impossible to design a character properly without using the company-provided tool. But nobody would do that...
Every unit, every class should feel unstoppable, overpowered and epic -- because it's just more fun that way.
I... just... damn. I weep. Remember that old Twilight Zone episode where the hoodlum dies and goes to the afterlife? He gets everything he wants; wins at roulette, always scores with the beautiful girls, absolutely everything. And after a few weeks he's going nuts from the boredom. That's when he realizes that he's not in Heaven after all... That's what WoW strikes me as from that line. A bunch of min-maxing twinks who just want to get their druid to 48th level for the sake of doing so. Story? Setting? Bah. It's all about the levels and the lucre, baby.
Less is more when 'less' is concentrated into one simple, overpowered and fun class to play.
See above. I want a fighter-magic-user-thief-cleric-assassin-ranger, damnit! That would be so fun!
Quest text shouldn't be necessary to understand the story -- it should be there to enhance the story that's already obviously playing out.
Vapid: va·pid (\ˈva-pəd, ˈvā-\), adjective. Lacking liveliness, tang, briskness, or force : flat, dull. "A story that relies on nothing but unsupported scenes that progress across the screen without any sort of context in the larger game setting, no matter how crammed full of superficial visual bells and whistles, is nothing but vapid get-me-to-the-next-level game design that commands as much intellectual engagement as a game of Donkey Kong." Synonyms: see insipid.
You started out gaining 100% xp, but the longer you played, the more that percentage dropped, eventually falling to 50%. This was to discourage players from playing more than a few hours at a time. Beta players hated this system -- so Pardo changed it by doubling the amount of xp required to reach maximum level in the game, starting players out with 200% xp gained, and slowly dropping it to 100% xp as they played. Same effect, same numbers, the only difference was the way the numbers were presented -- and people applauded the 'change'.
They just keep hammering this point home. It's like pinball machine point inflation. It's utterly meaningless in a relative sense, but treat your players like they're five-year-olds demanding more toy cars, and they'll never care that they're getting Matchbox cars instead of Dinky Toys.
As it stands, when you summon a mount it simply appears beneath you in a puff of smoke -- the animation department suggested that it would be really cool if you'd actually call your mount and have it run to you so you could hop on it, going so far as to mock up the animation for it. But there was a downside to this -- it took several seconds for that animation to play out, and if say, a rogue jumped out to stun lock you, you probably didn't want to be stuck stunned and rapidly dying while watching your horse gallop up to meet you.
Not only must they have it all, but they must have it all now. Three seconds for an animation to play out? Unbearable! The players in my campaign, for comparison, made fourth or fifth level after about a year of play. Uphill, in the snow, both ways.
With over 11.5 million players in WoW alone, it's clear Blizzard is doing something right -- and the panel did an excellent job of shedding a little light on what that something is.
I confess it's difficult to argue with such numbers; is it just a generational thing, maybe? Kids today, to coin a phrase, are just lazier, or perhaps have more of a sense of entitlement? (I wouldn't be the first to make the observation.) Back in the day, TSR had sales of around $16 million in 1982. Not bad, but hardly the mind-blowing numbers that Blizzard commands (come on, unveil that space elevator already, guys!). Then again, it was a different world, and a different game. That game demanded some imagination, some work, some investment. When a character died, that was (mostly) the end. Grab the dice.

I think what gets me here is the attitude of the players. Clearly, there are a whole bunch of folks out there who like this sort of game. Get everything you want, immediately, loudly, and with no risk. I suppose it makes sense on a certain primate-evolutionary-psychology level, like eating chocolate and starchy foods endlessly. But man, that's not a game I think I'd ever find interesting.

Forgive me Mr. President, but they hate us with every fiber of their existence. We love freedom. We love independence. To feel. To question. To resist oppression. To them, it is an alien way of existing they will never accept......