Praising With Faint Damning

Posted by Stropp on July 23, 2009 You may have heard the expression: Damning with faint praise. It means that someone, by only giving a token measure of praise to something, is really expressing their disapproval. You've heard it used before, "That movie was okay." Or for a date setup, "She has a nice personality". And even for an employer reference like "Mr Smith, was a loyal employee who was always on time." So what's it called then when someone attempting to be critical of something can't really find anything serious to be critical about? Wolfshead seems to have found himself in just this dilemma with his analysis of his first 15 minutes in Everquest 2. It appears that his most serious problems have to do with Everquest having too much in the way of character choices and things to do, and some of the art choices made for loading screens and the like. To be honest, when I first started reading this post I wondered if he was just pulling our collective legs as his first couple of minutes were spent worrying about the size and position of the ESRB label compared to how WoW does it. And in fact, that's pretty much where the rest of this review headed, into a comparison with World of Warcraft. That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are times when it's appropriate to make comparisons between things. It's one of the ways we work out what we like. But in this case, it appears Wolfshead is looking hard for things that make Everquest 2 to be not as good as World of Warcraft. To be fair, there are a couple of things I agree with. The UI could handle a bit of improvement, especially for new players. For the most part it isn't so bad, but it does take a bit of getting used to, and finding out how to do some things can be a bit of a chore. On the other hand, it's light years ahead of the UI used by EQ1 (or is that damning with faint praise?) Having said that, every UI needs improvement. Over time user needs and expectations change, and developers should keep abreast of that. Wolfshead also mentions that the newbie areas and quests could handle some improvement. As Tipa points out in her rebuttal to Wolfshead's post, that actually has happened - a number of times. And perhaps they could use still more improvement. However, I'd be more inclined to ask for some improvements to the major starting cities, Qeynos and Freeport. I find they, especially Freeport, tend to be tedious to get around, and these days are not the thriving metropli that they once were. But there are a lot of points in Wolfshead's article where I think he is completely off the mark. Aside from some of the completely irrelevant issues like "inappropriate background screens," there are three points I'd like to address.
  1. Character Creation - Too many choices. I have never heard any game criticised for it's abundance of character customisation before. On the contrary, some of the more celebrated customisations come from City of Heroes/Villains where it's possible to have fun without ever leaving the character generator. If anything can be said, and it's one of the things I felt WoW was lacking in, it is that World of Warcraft should have more character choices. And by the way, guys do like character options, just check out Age of Conan on that front (pardon the pun.) One thing to finish this point, I think Wolfshead has a great idea in having the devs provide a set of pretty character templates that players who don't need the higher level of customisation can quickly choose.
  2. Combat and Abilities. For the most part Wolfshead seemed to like the combat, but felt that casting times were too long. I think we've all felt that when we're in the middle of a fight and are waiting for the refresh. However, that's where AA's come in. For example, the ShadowKnight class provides an AA that reduces refresh and casting times by 25 to 30 percent. Wolfshead simply hasn't got to the level where he can know that. Fair enough. He also says that there is only one way to know when combat has started, the name flashes. That's simply not true. The music dramatically changes, and there are sound effects of attack, not to mention red numbers floating away saying how much damage you're taking. Much the same as WoW in fact. But where Wolfshead really comes unstuck is suggesting that in getting more than one new combat ability or spell per level that this is in some way overwhelming for newbies. He suggests only giving one new ability per level. Hmmm. Strange considering with WoW you sometimes need to purchase way more than two abilities at every second level.
  3. Exposing the player to crafting too early. Once again I thought I was reading a parody post. Crafting in Everquest 2, while not perfect, is far superior to that set and forget nonsense in World of Warcraft. In fact it's the reason a lot of players, some of whom are in my guild, play Everquest 2. To suggest offering crafting later? -- What like Age of Conan where you can't start crafting until 40 or so? -- next he'll be saying that crafting should be set and forget like WoW. Another point: At this stage Wolfshead was still on the newbie island. The only thing wrong with crafting on the island is that the crafting tutorial given by crafting NPCs in the cities is missing on the island. In fact there is no quest regarding crafting on the island, (there used to be.) Wolfshead would have to have gone looking. I know this because the other night I created a crafting character and went looking for the quest. I would have been happy to not do any combat at that time for that character. So sorry Wolfshead, you're way off base with this one. If you don't want to craft, don't. But don't suggest that others don't want to.
In essence what Wolfshead is saying is that Everquest 2 should be dumbed down to below the level of World of Warcraft, especially considering some of his gripes are with things that WoW does. It's posts like this that risk me agreeing with Syncaine on the subject of WoW Tourists! While Wolfshead is entitled to his opinion concerning his comparisons between Everqust 2 and World of Warcraft, it seems to me that the essense of his post, saying that players are given too many new abilities as they level, that they have too many character choices at character creation, and that being exposed to crafting too early are all bad things, simply seem like he's looking hard for something, anything, wrong with EQ2. And having found nothing he picks on the most minor and inconsequential issues. To me, that sounds like praising with faint damnation.
  1. Wolfshead Said,

    So what’s it called then when someone attempting to be critical of something can’t really find anything serious to be critical about?

    Wolfshead seems to have found himself in just this dilemma with his analysis of his first 15 minutes in Everquest 2.

    My article deals with plenty of substantive issues that are serious to me as a game designer and issues that that would be an impediment to a new subscriber. One man’s scrap is another man’s gold.

    To be honest, when I first started reading this post I wondered if he was just pulling our collective legs as his first couple of minutes were spent worrying about the size and position of the ESRB label compared to how WoW does it. And in fact, that’s pretty much where the rest of this review headed, into a comparison with World of Warcraft.

    Placement of company logos, loading screens, presentation aesthetics may be trivial and unimportant to you but they are of great importance to those that care about such things in the video game industry. I’m sorry I bored you with this. Perhaps I should have discussed ranger DPS in the endgame or something “important” like that.

    Comparing EQ2 to WoW is entirely valid as that is there the prime demographic for MMOs is situated. I believe in the principle emulating success.

    Wolfshead also mentions that the newbie areas and quests could handle some improvement. As Tipa points out in her rebuttal to Wolfshead’s post, that actually has happened – a number of times. And perhaps they could use still more improvement. However, I’d be more inclined to ask for some improvements to the major starting cities, Qeynos and Freeport. I find they, especially Freeport, tend to be tedious to get around, and these days are not the thriving metropli that they once were.

    My article only covers the first 15 minutes of gamplay. That’s not even enough time to make it from the shores of the Isle of Refuge to Qeynos or Freeport. That is why I didn’t discuss Qeynos or Freeport at length and clearly stated I’d deal with it in a future article.

    But there are a lot of points in Wolfshead’s article where I think he is completely off the mark. Aside from some of the completely irrelevant issues like “inappropriate background screens,” there are three points I’d like to address.

    Why are background screens irrelevant? Are you claiming that they have absolutely no impact on the quality of the player’s experience in an MMO? Perhaps Blizzard should remove all of the hand-crafted background screens they have created for each race and replace them with a standard screen? Clearly SOE knows more about making successful MMOs then Blizzard right?

    While seemingly trivial things like this may not be important to you, they are of important to me as a game designer and as someone that appreciates higher states of artistry and craftsmanship. They help to set the appropriate mood for the player and support the notion of immersion. You could make the argument that music isn’t important as well so why bother to have great music in an MMO.

    Character Creation – Too many choices. I have never heard any game criticised for it’s abundance of character customisation before.

    You got me! Bravo. I should have entitled it “Too many ineffectual choices” instead. I found that no matter what I did or changed I ended up with the same result — a human, a barbarian that looked essentially the same.

    Exposing the player to crafting too early. Once again I thought I was reading a parody post. Crafting in Everquest 2, while not perfect, is far superior to that set and forget nonsense in World of Warcraft. In fact it’s the reason a lot of players, some of whom are in my guild, play Everquest 2.

    I never commented on crafting as a whole in EQ2 — which I love by the way — as it was beyond the scope of the article. I made the point that exposing crafting to a level 1 player is far too early for my tastes and displays a lack of focus on the part of SOE.

    I also mentioned that SOE realizes this and crafting only made available later on in the new starting zones when the player hits level 7-8 when they reach Kelethin.

    Now it seems you are the one that is grasping for things to voice your displeasure with.

    In essence what Wolfshead is saying is that Everquest 2 should be dumbed down to below the level of World of Warcraft, especially considering some of his gripes are with things that WoW does. It’s posts like this that risk me agreeing with Syncaine on the subject of WoW Tourists!

    I’m not saying that at all. That’s a gross distortion of what my article is all about. Anyone who has read my blog over the past few years knows how much I loathe how MMOs like WoW have dumbed down the MMO experience which is why I’m currently enjoying my time in EQ2. despite a number of deficiencies which potential new subscribers might find repugnant.

    Thank you for at least being honest enough to agree with some of the other points I made in my article. All I was trying to do was offer some suggestions for improvement for EQ2.

  2. Stropp Said,

    @Wolfshead – Hope you don’t mind, I added blockquotes to your comment as they’re not available in the comment editor and I felt your response was worth using the proper elements. I’ll respond a little later (at work now) either in a follow-up comment or a post as there’s a lot to be said. Cheers.

    Update: My response below.

    Stropp said:
    So what’s it called then when someone attempting to be critical of something can’t really find anything serious to be critical about?

    Wolfshead seems to have found himself in just this dilemma with his analysis of his first 15 minutes in Everquest 2.

    Wolfshead said:
    My article deals with plenty of substantive issues that are serious to me as a game designer and issues that that would be an impediment to a new subscriber. One man’s scrap is another man’s gold.

    It seems you are looking at the issues less from the new player perspective and more from the designers perspective.

    Stropp said:
    To be honest, when I first started reading this post I wondered if he was just pulling our collective legs as his first couple of minutes were spent worrying about the size and position of the ESRB label compared to how WoW does it. And in fact, that’s pretty much where the rest of this review headed, into a comparison with World of Warcraft.

    Wolfshead said:
    Placement of company logos, loading screens, presentation aesthetics may be trivial and unimportant to you but they are of great importance to those that care about such things in the video game industry. I’m sorry I bored you with this. Perhaps I should have discussed ranger DPS in the endgame or something “important” like that.

    You are correct. All of those things are important to the developer of a game. Proper branding and presentation is always given a lot of thought.
    However, players are pretty much always more interested in how fast they can skip all that loading screen stuff and get straight to the game. How many times do you hear players say, “hey I liked all those loading screens and nVidia advertisements. So glad they made them unskippable.” Your original premise was to present the first 15 minutes from a players perspective. Most players aren’t going to care about the location of a ESRB logo. Considering that particular screen lasts a few seconds at most, and (I think) you can click through it, from a players perspective it is a trivial thing to complain about.

    And, sarcasm aside, looking at ranger DPS in the endgame wouldn’t have met your first 15 minutes of gameplay criteria. But, on the other hand, are we talking about gameplay when we are critiquing loading screens and ESRB logos?

    Wolfshead said:
    Comparing EQ2 to WoW is entirely valid as that is there the prime demographic for MMOs is situated. I believe in the principle emulating success.

    Maybe. The more I think about that statement, the more I wonder about its validity. It could be that comparing WoW and EQ2 is the cliched comparison of apples and oranges. They are different games, and I think each has a completely different design philosophy. In that case comparisons can be useless at best, harmful at worst.

    Stropp said:
    Wolfshead also mentions that the newbie areas and quests could handle some improvement. As Tipa points out in her rebuttal to Wolfshead’s post, that actually has happened – a number of times. And perhaps they could use still more improvement. However, I’d be more inclined to ask for some improvements to the major starting cities, Qeynos and Freeport. I find they, especially Freeport, tend to be tedious to get around, and these days are not the thriving metropli that they once were.

    Wolfshead said:
    My article only covers the first 15 minutes of gamplay. That’s not even enough time to make it from the shores of the Isle of Refuge to Qeynos or Freeport. That is why I didn’t discuss Qeynos or Freeport at length and clearly stated I’d deal with it in a future article.

    Point taken, however you could make it to Qeynos and Freeport in the first 15 if you wanted to skip the newbie areas completely. All you have to do is approach the captain and tell him you want to leave. It would be tougher, but there are quests available in those cities at the appropriate levels. However, from a first timers perspective it would be better to hang around the island until level 8.

    Stropp said:
    But there are a lot of points in Wolfshead’s article where I think he is completely off the mark. Aside from some of the completely irrelevant issues like “inappropriate background screens,” there are three points I’d like to address.

    Wolfshead said:
    Why are background screens irrelevant? Are you claiming that they have absolutely no impact on the quality of the player’s experience in an MMO? Perhaps Blizzard should remove all of the hand-crafted background screens they have created for each race and replace them with a standard screen? Clearly SOE knows more about making successful MMOs then Blizzard right?

    No, not claiming that at all. In fact there’s been a few times I’ve wondered about why they don’t have racially specific screens like in WoW. However, once again, a player is going to spend the least amount of his Everquest 2 career in the character selection screen, and I wonder really how much a player would really worry about this.

    Wolfshead said:
    While seemingly trivial things like this may not be important to you, they are of important to me as a game designer and as someone that appreciates higher states of artistry and craftsmanship. They help to set the appropriate mood for the player and support the notion of immersion. You could make the argument that music isn’t important as well so why bother to have great music in an MMO.

    A better way to put it would be that some things have a higher or lower priority than others. As a player, yes it’s something that’s crossed my mind, but is it something that I even think of when I consider the faults of EQ2? Not at all.

    And does a character select screen really have anything to do with immersion? Or the loading screen for that matter? For me it’s once I am inside a game when immersion matters, how I got there isn’t really all that important unless it’s annoying. Then the annoyingness can carry over. As far as I’m concerned, get me to the action fast.

    To some players, music is not just not important, it’s downright annoying. I have a friend who turns of the music in any game he plays as the first thing he does. He prefers his music playing in the background. And he’s not the only person I’ve heard who does that. Me – I leave it going unless it gets really annoying, but I often turn it down. In EQ2 I leave it as is.

    There are all sorts of players out there. Not all of them have your tastes, or mine.

    Stropp said:
    Character Creation – Too many choices. I have never heard any game criticised for it’s abundance of character customisation before.

    Wolfshead said:
    You got me! Bravo. I should have entitled it “Too many ineffectual choices” instead. I found that no matter what I did or changed I ended up with the same result — a human, a barbarian that looked essentially the same.

    As has been noted on other blogs, there are a lot of people who like the character models and who can make the most of them. You even commented on Tipas post that she had made her halfling characters look good, or something to that effect. Now that doesn’t mean that a new player will be able to make the most of their character, but at least they have the option to try. And as I said in my post, I thought your idea of some template characters was a good one. That way there’s a quick option, and those who want to extensively customise their character can still do so. No need to remove those ‘ineffectual’ choices.

    Stropp said:
    Exposing the player to crafting too early. Once again I thought I was reading a parody post. Crafting in Everquest 2, while not perfect, is far superior to that set and forget nonsense in World of Warcraft. In fact it’s the reason a lot of players, some of whom are in my guild, play Everquest 2.

    Wolfshead said:
    I never commented on crafting as a whole in EQ2 — which I love by the way — as it was beyond the scope of the article. I made the point that exposing crafting to a level 1 player is far too early for my tastes and displays a lack of focus on the part of SOE.

    It’s too early for your tastes. It might not be too early for someone else taste.

    Wolfshead said:
    I also mentioned that SOE realizes this and crafting only made available later on in the new starting zones when the player hits level 7-8 when they reach Kelethin.

    All the new zones do that, however, there is nothing stopping a player skipping those areas completely and heading into the cities. You can quite easily run to Neriak from the DLW starting area. Kelethin takes a bit more effort. And… there is definitely more emphasis on the combat over crafting, and new players wouldn’t be aware of that. It is achievable though for someone in the know.

    However, all the new zones allow players to harvest raw materials and collect shinies. So the notion of tradeskills is still there.

    Wolfshead said:
    Now it seems you are the one that is grasping for things to voice your displeasure with.

    Not at all.

    Stropp said:
    In essence what Wolfshead is saying is that Everquest 2 should be dumbed down to below the level of World of Warcraft, especially considering some of his gripes are with things that WoW does. It’s posts like this that risk me agreeing with Syncaine on the subject of WoW Tourists!

    Wolfshead said:
    I’m not saying that at all. That’s a gross distortion of what my article is all about. Anyone who has read my blog over the past few years knows how much I loathe how MMOs like WoW have dumbed down the MMO experience which is why I’m currently enjoying my time in EQ2. despite a number of deficiencies which potential new subscribers might find repugnant.

    I’m sorry if I have misrepresented what you are saying. I’ve only recently added your blog to my reader.

    Thank you for at least being honest enough to agree with some of the other points I made in my article. All I was trying to do was offer some suggestions for improvement for EQ2.

    I hope you’re not inferring that, in disagreeing with some of the points you raised in your post, I wasn’t being honest. Having opposing opinions is not a measure of dishonesty.

    See, the one thing that seems to have happened around this whole discussion, is that you are doing what you are accusing everyone else of doing. You’re saying that these responses to your original post are simply old timer EQ2 players getting upset at others who are criticizing their game. Yet, your comments carry the very same weight of defensiveness to those criticizing your post. So many times in the comment I’m quoting here you’ve made snarky comments. You got me! Bravo… Ranger DPS… Thank you for at least being honest enough to agree…

    You started a conversation with your original post. Got upset when others disagreed with you. Then wrote off the validity of those opinions by saying that since they’re from EQ2 diehards of course they’re going to disagree.

  3. Ysharros Said,

    Similarly, agreeing with some things and disagreeing with others should be allowed. I’m distressed at the all-or-nothing nature of blogging I’m suddenly seeing — including in my own blog far more often than should be the case. Are we here to discuss things, or are we here to pontificate to the masses and get angry when they don’t agree with every syllable? I’d hoped for better from myself and Wolfshead, I’m mad at you for making me examine that in myself. ;)

    Then again, I’m distressed with blogging right now, heh. :P

    /stream of consciousness hijack off

  4. Sturm und EQ2 drang « Stylish Corpse Said,