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Games And Gamery

Why Star Wars The Old Republic Is Bad For Role Players

Posted by Stropp on November 30, 2011

A lot of words have been written about SWTOR lately.

The impression I get is that these words have been mostly positive about Star Wars The Old Republic. And, to a certain extent, this is rightfully so. SWTOR is actually a pretty decent game.

I was given the opportunity over the weekend to participate in the final stress test for the game, and spent the greater portion of the weekend doing so. While I enjoyed my time playing it, despite some fairly annoying bugs, I’ve come to the following conclusion about The Old Republic.

It’s good for themepark gamers, bad for role players.

Darkside/Lightside Points

Bioware for some time now in their games have been using a simple alignment system to let players choose to be nasty or nice. This has the effect of altering the game play to some degree by changing the outcomes of some conversations with NPCs, and even altering the path of the game a little, even though the end result is the same.

This works quite nicely in a game like Mass Effect to provide some replayability and allowing different choices on the way through, but whether a player in Mass Effect goes light or dark really has no effect on anything other than romantic choices. But Mass Effect is not a MMORPG.

The big problem here is that Bioware has tied light and darkside gear to this system. If you are playing a darkside Sith or Jedi, when you reach darkside level 1 you can purchase DS1 lightsabres. It’s not clear to me if this equipment is better than what is normally on offer, or awarded from quests, but if it is then this encourages players to choose one path, dark or light, and stick to it.

Why is that a problem, you say.

Well, your choice is removed. If you want to be able to raid later on, you will need the best gear. Even if raiding is not your goal, having decent equipment is still going to be something to be desired.You are going to want to make the ‘right’ choice for your path, not necessarily the right choice for your character.

In other words the current darkside/lightside system encourages min-maxing.

If you are a role player who also wants to be competitive in raiding or grouping, you will have to choose between picking the option that awards the most points or the option that feels right for your character.If you don’t give a care about end-game, sure feel free to make the choices you want.

I did create a character on the weekend that was intended to be unrelentingly evil, and making the dark choices was fun, but even so, the darkside choice didn’t always feel right. That’s why the best bad guys in books, movies, and TV are so interesting, they make interesting choices. The worst bad guys are the ones who bwaa ha ha all the time.

It’s also interesting to note that the Bioware idea of morality was a bit off at times. Some of the light side choices were distinctly on the wrong side of right.

Legacy System

The proposed legacy system dictates that when your character completes the first chapter you choose a unique legacy surname. That is then used for all your future characters on that server.

This build has our first iteration of the Legacy System! At its core the Legacy system is about allowing players to create a family tree of characters. Family is pretty important to the Star Wars universe, with the Skywalker family having one of the most interesting dynamics in movie history. This version is just the foundational components that we will use to build upon in the future. Here are the features of this iteration:

  • Once your character has completed their Chapter 1 storyline, they will be able to choose a Legacy Last Name. This Legacy Last Name must be unique and is shared across all characters on that server – so choose carefully!
  • Once you have unlocked your Legacy, any and all characters on that server will now contribute to that player’s Legacy Experience Points. Much like normal experience points, when you reach certain Legacy thresholds, you will increase yourLegacy Level.

We already have plans for how we will expand the functionality of the Legacy System in one of our major post-ship patches. This will include being able to shape your Legacy’s family tree, and give you a reward for all those Legacy Levels.

I”m not really certain what the purpose is for this. I’ve seen conjecture that it allows characters on a server to share equipment, or provides some kind of bonus, but from the announcement it isn’t really clear.

Once thing is clear though, once you have a legacy name every character on the same server, no matter what species or allegiance shares the same last name. So your Twi’lek Consular, Human Bounty Hunter, and Chiss Sith Warrior will all have the last name. Nope, no logical problems with that at all. After all different species often share the same cultural background that results in the same last names… Hmmm.

This incredible lack of logic does not even take into account that a player might simply want to create a role play character that is not associated with their other characters. It’s odd to me that Bioware, a company that has grown to greatness on the back of encouraging role play in its games, is almost completely disregarding it in SWTOR.

So, if you are a roleplayer, you are pretty much out of luck.

Companions/Ships

A big part of SWTOR is the companion system. As the player progresses he is awarded companions that he can interact with, do their storyline quests, and even romance. Unfortunately here the role player is also let down.

You see you don’t have a choice.

You are given the companions for your class. You can’t choose from a pool or selection.

Every Sith Warrior is going to run around with that whiney Twi’lek as the first companion. (No wonder I enjoyed shock collaring her so much!) About the best differentiation you can hope for is to change the skin colour.

I remember reading a lot of love for the Jawa companion, Blizz. He’s only available for the Bounty Hunter. So if you love Blizz but can’t stand the BH playstyle, tough. If you want to access Blizz you will have to play a character you don’t like.

Of course you get a choice of which of the companions to take with you on a mission, but even this is limited by your class. A Jedi Knight for example is a tank. A JK player will always take the companion that offers the best support role, a healer for example. Some companions will be useless (does a tank need a tank companion?) Other companions will be indispensible and always chosen.

The same goes for the ship you get. Every character gets a ship which is nice, but the bounty hunter gets one single type of ship while the Jedi Knight gets another.

Now while this doesn’t directly affect a players role playing choices as much as the first two points above, there is an indirect effect in that all players in a class are exactly the same.

No two Jedi are unique. No you are not a precious snowflake in Bioware’s galaxy.

Homogenousity

Okay. Made up word.

I guess everything I wrote above boils down into my biggest criticism of Star Wars The Old Republic.

There is very little room for customisation.

From character creation where there is barely any difference in some of the face styles and other choices (why couldn’t my Republic Zabrak have Darth Maul colourings?) to the rewards for light/dark side choices and companion and ship allocations there is very little chance for customisation.

For the most part players will be constrained to playing Star Wars The Old Republic through a fairly narrow and linear corridor.

Themepark players will love this game, as long as they are not roleplayers too. SWTOR is a masterpiece of themepark design, taking the player along on what appears to be a great story. But that’s about where it stops. It’s a very limited game in some respects, perhaps only having long term playability for raiders and those who enjoy battleground style PvP. There’s no sandpit in this themepark.

While the story that I’ve encountered so far is excellent, it is the Bioware story that is being played, not yours.

That’s why I think that SWTOR will be bad for role players.

How about you, what do you think?

 

 

What About The Point Of Difference?

Posted by Stropp on April 15, 2011

One of the things that happens to you when you start a business is that you (are forced) to learn a whole bunch of new stuff. For me, a lot of the new subject matter being packed into my gray matter is on the topic of marketing. It’s amazing the gap between what I thought I knew and what I actually knew.

For instance, one of the early lessions I learned was that successful business market themselves not on price, but on how different they are from their competitors. That’s called the point of difference.

So when I read the following passage in Tobolds most recent post,

But isn’t the problem rather that the new games are too similar to WoW and other previous games, so they don’t hold the attention of players for very long?

it occurs to me that maybe the big reason that so many games fail to get the numbers that they want in a market clearly favoring the themepark style is that they are not selling their point of difference to the MMORPG market.

I’m only a little familiar with US themeparks, so my analogy here might be flawed, but when you compare places like Six Flags and Disneyland, they are differentiating themselves not on price but on what kind of experience they offer.

Why aren’t the MMORPG developers doing the same?

Or do you think they are?

In Defence Of Themepark MMORPGs

Posted by Stropp on April 11, 2011

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… oh wait. Let me begin again. A long time ago, early in my gaming career, I bought a little game called Warcraft 2. It was my first Real Time Strategy game. I played through both campaigns, then went out and bought the expansion pack. After that I looked around for other RTS games, and over time found and played Command and Conquer, Red Alert, Starcraft, and other several other RTSes. I simply loved the whole resource gathering, base building gameplay style. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Then one day I went out and bought another Real Time Strategy game, I can’t remember what it was called, but it thoroughly disgusted me. There was no resource gathering. There was no base building. The player was provided with a fixed number of units and had to complete the mission with just those. I didn’t complete the first mission. I felt conned because I didn’t get what I expected to get.

All of a sudden, there were heaps of these kinds of games on the market, and they were replacing the old-style RTS. At least it seemed that way. The commentators were proclaiming that these games improved the RTS concept by getting rid of the resource gathering design. I didn’t feel that way. In my mind, these games weren’t Real Time Strategy games because they lacked the basic functionality. Namely, resource gathering and base building.

Now I see it a little differently.

These two styles of RTS are completely different. The only real similarity between them is that the player controls units on a map and sends them against an opponent. But the basic style is that of a strategy game, and since the action occurs in ‘real time’ rather than turn based, it’s appropriate to consider both styles as sub-genres of Real Time Strategy.

So these days when I hear criticism that the MMORPG genre is stagnant and how games like Rift aren’t different enough from WoW I find myself wondering if many of these commentators aren’t missing a fundamental point.

 

Games like World of Warcraft, Rift, Everquest 2, Aion, and others that many disparagingly refer to as ‘Theme Parks’ are a single variety of MMORPG. Others like Eve, Perpetuum, and Darkfall fall into a second variety of MMORPG, mostly refered to as ‘Sandbox’ games. Simply put, the MMORPG genre has at least two sub-genres: themepark and sandbox.

Some players will prefer one type of game over another. Just as I prefered base building resource gathering RTSes and couldn’t stand the other kind, (I even hated those types of missions in WarcraftC&CRed Alert) there will be people who prefer themepark over sandbox, or vice versa. Some players will enjoy both styles of gameplay. However, most people will prefer one over the other, even if they enjoy both.

To state that Rift doesn’t change the style of gameplay that was developed in WoW sufficiently enough and then complain about it, is akin to complaining that Starcraft is not sufficiently different from Command and Conquer. Both games are themepark style MMOs with no real sandbox elements, to get upset about that doesn’t make sense. What is being suggested, by these complaints, is that developers should not be making new themepark games.

The simple fact of the matter is that Rift, Aion, and World of Warcraft all implement a style of game that people want to play. Complaining about it doesn’t change that fact that if a themepark MMORPG is made and doesn’t botch up the launch, then people will want to play it. It also appears that more people want to play a themepark MMO, than a sandbox MMO.

Unfortunately, big companies are only interested in developing MMORPGs that will provide a decent return on investment. Coupled with the huge investment required to develop a AAA MMORPG, these companies are only willing to invest in gameplay styles proven to generate that ROI. That means, for the foreseeable future, the predominant development of MMORPGs will be of the Themepark variety.

So when someone complains that Rift is too much like WoW (for example) they are simply saying that they would have prefered the developer create their MMORPG under a different sub-genre. That’s like suggesting that “When Harry Met Sally” should have been a wartime action movie, rather than a romantic comedy. (Although, I suggest any romantic comedy would be better as any other type of movie genre!)

Tell me what you think.

Themeparks Vs Adventure

Posted by Stropp on July 6, 2010

Wolfshead has just posted his second post on The Emasculation of MMOs. As usual his arguments are very well thought out and contain a lot of good points about the state of the MMORPG genre. However, I really do think that he doesn’t truely understand people and their motivations.

Early on he states.

I daresay the majority of people who enter MMOs today would prefer to be immersed in a virtual world of adventure than deposited into a theme park of amusement and fun if offered the choice. Sadly, that choice is not available in today’s market. Instead the player just follows along the predetermined storyline that the quest designers lay out in front of them. Never questioning, never deviating from the golden path.

I daresay that he’s right that some people who enter MMOs would prefer the adventure, but the majority? No, unfortunately humans love the easy way.

Just look at the number of people who go on, lets say, an adventure camping trip as opposed to going to Disneyland for their holidays. The theme park attendee numbers vastly overwhelm the wilderness sandbox folks. Despite the absolutely amazing things you can do in nature (an off the trail horseback ride in Alaska’s Denali National Park with just me and the guide was one of the most marvelously memorable things I’ve ever done) the sad fact is most people will spend all their holidays staying in motels and going to Disney and Six Flags. If they ever do something adventurous, it will probably be only once.

It ends up being simple economics. All companies, not just game developers, will go to where the market lives. And, the bigger the company, let’s say Blizzvision, the more compelled they are to reach the biggest market possible. Hence Blizzard will continually refine World of Warcraft to meet the expectations of casual gamers who want their games to be fun, and not an adventure.

This is also why the big game developers aim for the status quo of MMO design. They’re after the casual segment. They can’t afford not to aim for the casuals.

The good news is that there are plenty of small niche adventure businesses out there that target the much smaller market. The guide who took me on the cross country horseback ride was in the process of packing up for the winter and moving down south. He targeted a small niche market out in the boonies that made him a good enough living to run that business on half a years revenue. Would he have made more money offering pony rides in the Disneyland carpark? Maybe, but the risk of being put out of business by the big company would have been higher.

In the same way, there are game developers that are targeting the niche MMORPG market. CCP for example with Eve Online. It’s no Blizzard, but it’s happily making good money running a sandbox game that players love.

Perhaps that’s where the immediate potential for change in the MMORPG market lies. The niche developer, not the giant game publisher.

And, one other thing. I’ve also been to Disneyland, Universal Studios, and other theme parks, as an adult. They were fun and engaging and I had a great time.

So are theme park MMORPGs. What’s wrong with fun?

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