What Do I Want In a Game’s Story?

Yesterday ESO made a news post that deals with how they came up with the story for the new expansion. One bit really got my gears moving (highlighting the part that stuck out to me):

“It all starts with the Creative Director, Lead Designer, and myself. They provide guidance as to the type of story they want to see (political, Daedric, Dragons) and the kinds of places they want to go in the world (Elsweyr, Western Skyrim, whatever). Then, I start creating short pitches, exploring the kinds of themes and plots that might be fun and exciting and could only take place at the intersection of those initial ideas.”

-Bill Slavicsek, ESO’s Lead Writer

As you can tell from the top picture, I have my preferences.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I tend to like smaller-scale stories in my RPG’s (much like Syp). Sure, there’s room for the big, world-saving stuff. But in general, I like to focus on the more local problems in games. This is why I love side-quests so much: the quests are almost always about whatever is bothering the local npc’s at the time. Sure, the world might be ending, but what about the dingos after my baby?

Politics is usually bigger-scale than that, but not necessarily by a whole lot, in RPG terms at least. But those are the stories that I want, myself. I look at my favorite games, and my favorite parts of other games. Deus Ex? That’s all about politics (and even throwing some real-world stuff in there, too). Fallout: New Vegas? You’re just voting for who’s going to run Hoover Dam, in essence. Witcher 3‘s best parts were about all the political infighting (and outfighting); I really wish the world-hopping and -saving were entirely excised. And the second game didn’t have any of that mumbo-jumbo. Heck, I thought the politics parts of the Star Wars prequels were the good parts, not boring at all.

Basically, I don’t like existential threats. I’ve long been of the opinion that, if a fictional antagonist is an existential threat to the protagonist (or their goals), then an equally weighty solution is necessary. Basically, a BS villain requires BS to take care of them.

My favorite (most hated) example is Eureka Seven AO, the sequel to 2005’s Eureka Seven. It’s a mecha anime that starts out as a monster-of-the-week show: nothing special, but I still liked it. But at one point a new villain comes in. This villain just shreks everything; not a step above the previous monsters, but a skyscraper. This continues for several episodes, until the show basically gives the protagonist a literal Plot Gun: the only way to resolve the threat is to erase it from the story entirely (and I’m not talking about a self-aware Deadpool way).

Now, obviously not all bbeg’s in fiction are this extreme. But I am constantly being asked to believe the people that started out pretty normal are supposed to be fighting entire armies, empires, or gods, by the end of the story. Even in sci-fi. This just strains my suspension of disbelief. Such stories can still be entertaining in themselves (being awesome is awesome!), but they have a harder hill to climb in terms of story, for me.

Now, what would I want, if I were one of the bigwigs at Zenimax, choosing the story for a new expansion? I’d just focus on what the preview quest hinted at. Not the stuff with the witches and vampires (that could still be a part), but on the political enmity between western and eastern Skyrim. Why doesn’t the Jarl of Solitude recognize the Skald-King as legitimate? What would it take to get him on-side? Or is he a jerk who’s planning on taking over the whole place (Skyrim, not Tamriel)? What about the civilians: what are their attitudes toward the whole situation? That’s what I want to see.

Yes, Lore Does Excuse Design Decisions

Over at Massively OP, an article popped up today about using lore to excuse design decisions, and how that’s not OK. Going in, I thought this was going to be about actual game design – combat flow, ui flow, and the like. Basically using lore to justify bad QOL elements. I can certainly get behind that stance. I can’t really think of any examples off the top of my head (most devs use the excuse of “QOL is hard”), but I’m certainly against the concept, and was hoping that the article would explain things.

But no, what the article was actually about was mostly character customization, or the lack thereof, in certain ways. (There was also a bit about no cross-faction teaming in WoW, which I think is also a valid complaint – I have the same complaints about STO. But that wasn’t the thrust of the article.) Really, mostly complaining about gender-class locking, or not being able to make female characters.

To be clear, I don’t actually like those things. Those sorts of things will definitely diminish my desire to play the game. But they are OK. If that’s what the devs want, they can use lore to justify it. If you want to say “no female knights, because lore,” that’s your choice. Or “no male witches”. Whatever, that’s fine. Even if your game is a knight game, or a witch game.

Getting mad about the gender locking, for this particular reason, is silly. Obviously the devs had a certain sort of character in mind. It’s a really ancient way of designing a RPG, especially for a MMO, but it’s still valid. In the very, very early days of PnP RPG’s, the characters were pretty static. The Wizard, The Knight, The Thief, etc. Even the first modules for DnD were designed with this in mind. Obviously, this design went away pretty quick (because both character and story customization are more fun, and are quite viable in pnp format), but, again, it’s still a valid design choice. Those RPG’s that do this (they seem to be mostly Asian, and particularly Korean in my experience) are fine. You (and I) might not like it, but it’s fine, for them.

Of course, the devs also have to face the consequences of their design decisions. If they whine about criticism, they get to come off as babbys. But said criticism should be about the choice made, and how it makes the game worse, not that the choice itself isn’t ok, or the lore isn’t valid. It’s perfectly fine for the Red Team and Blue Team to not be able to team together for lore reasons. Maybe annoying to players, but not necessary.

Of course, using lore as an excuse, when it’s not the real reason, is pretty low. If the game is coded in such a way that allowing, for example, cross-faction team, is nearly impossible without going in and blowing up half your game, then just admit that. I get the feeling sometimes that devs don’t want to admit those sort of things, for whatever reason. As if it’d be admitting a huge mistake, and that’d be dishonorable somehow. I get the feeling that’s the reason in WoW’s case (and probably STO’s case), but for some reason they just fall back on lore (which is extremely silly for STO).

Scale in Vidyas: A Rant

One of the things I enjoy in life in general is knowing the scale of things. I’m a pretty visual person, so that allows me to get a better grip on things, and allows me to play with it in my imagination. It’s one thing to know that X ship is Y meters long, but knowing how it looks next to other things helps me to get that picture in my head.

And, when scale is established, in whatever sort of art, I like it to be right. If it’s something that uses an already-established world, I like things to be consistent – one thing I have against all Trek after 2009. Another thing I dislike is how some things are stated, but the visual evidence is counter to it. Mostly what I’m talking today about concerns city stuff, especially in city builders.

When a game has negative achievements.

It grinds my gears more than a little when a place in a game is said to be a great city, a small town, or anything in between, and we don’t see it. Open world games are generally quite guilty of this. Now, I realize that, until fairly recently at least, having a realistically-sized city was practically impossible, for several reasons. A big city, or even a small town, with proper NPC’s, would be very taxing on bad hardware (consoles), and crafting that would be hard on the devs even taking that out of consideration; procedural generation is a possibility, but that’s boring for the player (see Daggerfall). That consolization is a big issue: both Oblivion and Skyrim were heavily impacted by having to fit to X360 and PS3 specs. The Witcher 3 is the best about this, but even there there is some small scaling down in most places.

And then we get to the city builders themselves. Again, there are hardware limitations that we have to consider – for older stuff. But it’s always bugged me that I can’t really make a proper city in something like Cities: Skylines or SimCity 4. I think it might be somewhat possible with SimCity 4, but you have to build it piecemeal, and not have it be one continuous city, with all the gameplay limitations that come with that.

Sounds like a nice place to live.

Cities: Skylines has other issues. Look at the above picture: on the right, there is “low-density” housing: one- or two-story dwellings, with some sort of lawn maybe. On the left, there is high-density housing: skyscrapers and such. If you look closely, those both have the same footprint, generally. That’s crazy. More on that in a bit.

And, if you look on the bottom, with the stats and such, we have 84k people. Obviously, a city of this level of development would have many, many more people. And, if you follow the in-game progression, this is supposed to be a major city; my city irl feels like a mere town, and yet has 100k people. This is something I’m more willing to look past, though: simply add a zero on the end, and it ends up being much more believable and appropriate for the scales the game can reasonably run at.

My bigger problem is with the scaling of space. The devs have given out a scale for this game: 8m per side for a square. That means we can build cities from real life into the game. At least in theory. The above is the main part of my hometown. Each buildable block is 2km x 2km. Thus, the main part of my small town fills almost an entire block, since it is one mile square, which is about 1600m square. Above, you can see the difference between the layout of my irl town, in the right and center, with the normal density of buildings and roads for the game, on the left. Way different. So different, it breaks the game to try to be real.

And, at 8m squares, you get buildings with small footprints. The growable buildings here (the ones the game builds itself) are I believe up to a max of 4×4 squares, maybe 5×5. That gives up to 40m a side, for buildings that are quite tall. Up to, because they tend to have a plot around them. There are plopable buildings (player-placed) that are much bigger, which is ok, but those tend to be limited.

For me, it’s so immersion-breaking to have these huge, hyper-dense cities. I want to be able to rebuild the towns and cities I’m familiar with, to see how traffic breaks, or if the place could survive as it is, in-game. But I can’t. And it bugs me. Oh, how I wish for a city-builder with proper scale! But I doubt it will happen anytime soon, not until the console goes the way of the dodo.

Dress-up In Games

I think one of the draws of some games, especially some RPG’s, is the ability to customize the characters’ looks. Sometimes it’s pretty simple, and sometimes it’s really complicated. When I read reviews of RPG’s in particular, a big deal is often made of character customization – how deep it is, how complicated it is, just what it can do, or if anything is absent. MMO’s in particular tend to be pretty heavy in the character customization game, both in the creation and in the later parts of gameplay.

For me, this is one of the reasons I will start a game, and a potential reason for me to keep with a game, or if I drop it if I get bored. For example, I’ve been playing Star Trek Online ever since it went F2P in 2012. I’ve done just about everything I give a single care about doing, many multiple times. And I’m not really digging the direction it’s been going the past year or so. So, why stick with it? In part, because of the character customization. I have more than 20 current alts, with several I’ve made and deleted over the years. The character customization is very deep, while not being too complicated. Not only can you customize your PC, but you can also fully customize all of your bridge officers. And not only that, but you can customize your ships too! It’s great. In fact, it’s so great that the few problems really stand out – limited color pallets, same colors sometimes don’t match on different outfit pieces, and do on. There’s a reason people say the real endgame is space barbie.

And part of why I wanted to get into FFXIV and Elder Scrolls Online was some fantasy character creation, with the ability to get more gear and nice outfits. FFXIV has really delivered, even though I’m still in the early game. ESO, though, has been a bit of a disappointment, personally, despite the very wide array of outfit pieces. To get into why, I’ll have to explain a bit of theory.

The way I see it, there’s a three-way continuum for how outfits can go: a sexy-cute-cool continuum. For these purposes, I’ll define ‘sexy’ as ‘designed to emphasize the (ideal) physical form,’ ‘cute’ as ‘designed to invoke a feeling of youthfullness or childishness,’ and ‘cool’ as ‘meant to looks awesome’. Not exactly scientific, but it’s one of those things where ‘you know it when you see it’. And these are sort of objective; while a ‘sexy’ outfit might not be particularly sexy to you, or me, it’s clearly meant to be that way, as opposed to cute or cool.

(And of course, there’s another axis orthagonal to this spectrum, which I’d say is something like ‘extremeness’. Kinda like a contrast, or darkness/lightness spectrum. So, say, the traditional Amish dress, and a gothic lolita cosplay dress, would both be at the ‘cute’ corner. The Amish dress would be at the unextreme end, while the gothloli dress would be at the extreme end. In fact, I’d say most of the things normal people wear normally would be at the unextreme end, somewhere on that triangle.)

I’m going to give some examples, from Granblue Fantasy, for both male and female characters. Male is a bit harder, since what (straight) dudes, which is what most game devs are, would find cool, others would find sexy. And ‘cute’ male outfits are few and far between, for the same reason.


And of course, there’s everything in between.

My problem with ESO is that almost every piece of gear, and even the outfits, are weighted towards the ‘cool’ corner. Some of the cash shop outfits are heading towards the ‘cute’ corner, but even there they’re pretty much all at the less extreme part of that spectrum. And of what few things are at the ‘sexy’ part of the triangle…they aren’t very sexy to me. I mean, this is I think the sexiest outfit available for PC’s:

And that doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Part of it is that I’m more into the lower body, and that’s completely covered. But another part is that the character model itself doesn’t lend itself to much sexiness, at least as far as they’ve made sexy outfits. Look up there: if you didn’t have the bra thing, would you even know it’s female? (The male version of this outfit is just that without the bra.) Heck, there are boob window dresses (common in Vvardenfell, especially in the Telvani areas), but because of the anti-cleavage body models, and the dress colors that tend to match the skin tones of the NPC’s, it’s hard to tell that that’s what they are.

Now, it’s pretty shallow of me, but if I’m going to make a female character, I want her to look quite different from a male character I could have made. If I just wanted some cool armor (and especially a cool helmet), does male or female even matter at that point? What I want is a female character that is sexy and/or cute, somewhere on that left side of the triangle. Or in the extreme part of the center.

This is just a minor complaint about ESO though. It’s quite the fun game, with lots to do, and the cool armors and outfits are quite cool. But the character customization and dress-up isn’t the thing that’s going to keep me coming back for years and years.

FFXIV, though…

Timelines In MMO’s (and Other RPG’s)

I was reading a reddit thread earlier, about a recent (in-character) blog post for Star Trek Online. Most of the thread was grousing (yet again) about the official timeline for the game: everything in the game takes place in the years 2409 and 2410. And the year isn’t over yet.

Now, said thread has the author of the post (a fan, not a dev) in there to justify said timeline. Basically, all that stuff happens quickly, and in rapid succession. And I can see how that could theoretically be justified.

But really, I think it’s a big stretch, especially since these things don’t take place in a vacuum. Part of the whole “RPG” thing is “role-playing,” ie, taking a role. The PC is a Character, after all. And while all the stuff in STO could, in theory, possibly take place in two years – two TV seasons, in other words – that would only really work with an established crew with an established captain. But that’s the trouble – in STO, no matter which faction you pick, you start out as a lowly junior officer, and end up as a full admiral (or its equivalent) well before even getting to the real “big damn hero” stuff.

The reddit thread offers some alternative timelines. One would be to have time in-game roughly match real life time. That’s how the shows worked. And it would at least be slightly sensible to take at least several years to build up rank. It’s still way too damn fast – even Kirk took about a decade as Captain to rank up – but at least it’s not crazy. Another option would be for each in-game “season” (major content patch) to equate to a year. This is also how the shows worked, although each show only had one season per year, so both are viable. This is better for the rank progression issue – we’re at something like season 18 or 19 I think, which makes for a much more sensible career path, even for a “saves the galaxy multiple times” hero.

(My own personal headcanon is that one’s career – and the events in the game – take place over at least a couple of decades, at least on the Federation side of things. Klingons can justify all this based on merit – this is the stuff songs are sung about, after all; and the Romulans can as well, as they’re basically the Rebel Alliance, promoting anybody to high rank as long as they stay alive and are successful. But Starfleet is pretty much a traditional, modern, bureaucratic military-complex, and while heroes get noticed (and thus placed first in line for promotions), there is still a process to all this. Hell, even in the US Civil War, brilliant officers still took the whole war to get from low to high rank.)

All that brought on the thought: what about other games? Especially MMO’s. From the games I’ve played, time doesn’t really seem to pass. I mean, some have day-night cycles, and some have seasonal events. But time doesn’t seem to pass in-character, for the most part, besides the occasional time-skip (like Dragon Age 2). When you have quests you can do in any order, especially sequence ones that can be interwoven (or, heaven forfend, out of order!), that makes trouble for setting up a timeline.

Let’s take Granblue Fantasy, for example. In a recent interview Director Fukuhara said that all the events were canon, but that they really didn’t think about where they fall in relation to each other (and the main story) – the players are all over the place in terms of what they’ve played (and I figure most are relatively low-level, and thus not as far along in the story), so making an extended timeline (a la Radiant Historia) is not something they’re terrible interested in. Of course, they’ve had six summer events now, and we can guess the game is five or so years along. And some events have characters that can only be present at certain times in the main story (like the recent Fastiva event…). I have my ideas, but that’s all they are – ideas.

But I was thinking about this in terms of, say, the Elder Scrolls games (including Elder Scrolls Online). We can guess what year they take place in (I think they’re actually explicitly stated somewhere, actually, even in-game) – or rather, the year they start. But how long do they take? In these sorts of games, you can’t even decide which events are canon, since there is the element of player choice, let alone what order events take place in, let alone when the events take place. (It was worst with Skyrim, which is perhaps at least part of why ESO takes place an age before any of the other games.)

Maybe I’m just being too big of a giant nerd about this.

A Quick Thought: Starting a New MMO

There’s one big problem with starting a (relatively) long-standing MMO, that’s been properly doing it’s thing – early group content. Trouble is, early group content is pretty easy to get past, and then never do it again, unless there’s some unique/attractive gear. As I’ve been going through FFXIV, I finally reached the point a day or two ago where I had to do group content to advance. And you unlock more and more stuff in quick succession, it seems. So, I’ve been having this sort of thing in my screen a lot:

I don’t know how to fix this. Maybe keep adding good things to the loot pools. At least in this game, you could add good-looking gear, so people can use it as glamours. Or have huge XP boosts, I don’t know.

It doesn’t help that I picked DPS instead of tank or healer. At least this class is pretty brain-dead, because I’m a simple sort, not very quick. And DPS is a dime a dozen, so no one blames me, or remembers me when I suck.

Friday Randomness

An example of a random picture.

I have a bunch of thoughts, but none of them coherent or thought-out enough for a whole post, today. Nothing special about Friday, though – how’s that for random?

Syp of Bio Break asks, Do racial variants add value to MMO’s? It looks like the conclusion is, they can! But do they? I don’t know. On first thinking of it, I had thought the first time I saw this was when I recently started FFXIV, and saw that the Viera had two variants: a forest viera and a mountain viera. Besides a very slight favoring of the base stats to martial or magical pursuits, respectively, it didn’t seem like much of a difference, besides flavor. I don’t even know if anyone else can find out which one you picked. Maybe there was some slight difference in their starting fetishwear, perhaps.

But as I was thinking on it, Star Trek Online has a variation of this. There are, technically, three Federation factions: the normal one, the TOS one, and the STD one. All three have different starting locations, different tutorials (well, the STD tutorial is merely a literal reskin of the standard tutoral), and a slightly different post-tutorial experience. But after that, the only difference is cosmetic. It could be argued that the Romulan and Dominion factions are similar, especially in how the ship distribution has been changed recently. I know three Federations isn’t exactly a race thing (especially since there are actual race differences inside the faction), but it feels the same as what Syp was describing.

-Twitch is going to be making their own streaming software, to go with their service. Makes sense. The move is because they perceive that streaming is too complicated, and that drives away potential streamers. I believe that is absolutely the case. I’m no streamer, mostly because I don’t have content I think needs to be streamed (streaming for yourself is way more pathetic than blogging for yourself), but also because there was just way too much setup to get it going. I made a Twitch account for the purpose of streaming, once, so that I could stream me sparking in GBF. It’s always a hoot to get everyone in on someone’s bad luck, and I wanted to spread that joy. But instead of some easy pick-up-and-go thing, like I thought it was, there was a whole load of other software that was needed to do it right. And I wasn’t going to get into that for 15 minutes of streaming every six or so months. This is a very encouraging development, though one I think is way past due.

-I saw that FFXIV was having a summer event, and I wanted in. There was no in-game encouragement, like I thought there would be. It was just on the launcher. So, I followed that link, and find out you need to be lvl 30 to participate. Well, I’m only 17, so I was planning on powerleveling (as much as one can do so at low levels and not knowing what one is doing, like me) last night. But, I bump straight into global emergency maintenance! I’ve never played a huge game like this before, and I’m not really part of the active community yet, so this blindsided me. So no playing last night for me.

Oh well, I have another MMO to play. Went back into ESO. Forgot that they have login bonuses, which I’ve been missing the past couple of days. Whoops. Not that it skips or anything, but I figure most of the better stuff is towards the later part, to encourage consistent play. No sign of a summer event, so that’s somewhat disappointing. Went and did some quests, one of which wanted me to do some PVP thing. I did it, but for some reason they mix low-level people like me with almost-post-tutorial players. The whole bracket is lvl 10-49. That was crazy. I was nothing but a short distraction at best, and an active detriment to my team.

Also, tried what is apparently a dungeon meant for multiple people, by myself. Despite the quest being lvl 11, which was my level, I wasn’t able to even scratch a single one of the swarm of enemies that I somehow agro’d. There was no in-mission indication that this was intended as a group activity. And I saw one other player there, who looked to be about my level. They probably did the same exact thing I did: just followed the quest marker, and got wrekd. Not the best game design, perhaps.

2014 was a crazy time

-Arena of Sompek is back in STO. Honestly, this is probably my favorite recurring event in the game, especially since they changed how the Crystalline Catastrophe event worked. I’m one of those weirdos that loves the ground game, and this is everything good about it distilled, without most of the bad parts (that aren’t inherent to the gameplay itself). And I’m very close to getting the free ship. I’d thought I would have it by the end of the last Featured TFO event, but I’m only a couple days away. Don’t care about the completion prize this time, and not just because it’s more STD material (though combined, I’m just not going to even get it for completion’s sake). But I will play this every day, because I like the event. Though it does lose some of the fun by trying to pack what should be a gauntlet into something everyone can do easily; both the infinite and timed versions are better, I think. But it sounds like maybe they will become permanent additions after this event is over, which would be so cool.

My Take on Lootboxes

All images will have only limited relation to the topic, because I’m on my laptop but addicted to posting pictures.

From the scuttlebutt I’m hearing, lootboxes are ‘back’ in the news. I guess the major console makers are trying to get ahead of the various governments to “do something” about this “menace”. And it looks like they are going to make those games that do use their systems, or perhaps will use their systems (I didn’t read any articles or anything; why do actual work and/or research for a blog post?), publish odds for winning the various prizes in the boxes. I think would make industry practice at the very least follow gacha rules in Japan, which is pretty much the same thing: the rates for the items in the gacha must be published (and presumably actually be accurate, too). (For further reading on this, search for “Monkeygate”.)

As for my personal views on this, I think this is a good move. I’m morally opposed to gambling, but I don’t think lootboxes are gambling, in the strictest sense: the player (or someone else, presumably) pays for a chance to get something they highly value, which they have a low chance of getting; but unlike real gambling, what they are wanting isn’t anything of actual real value, and if they lose, they don’t end up with nothing. I’m not opposed to lootboxes in the abstract. I do agree that the way they are used is predatory, that lots of psychology and research goes into it. But that’s not, in-and-of-itself, bad – that’s just marketing and research. Just because this way might be more effective than others of getting people to voluntarily trade their money for something of questionable value doesn’t make it wrong.

However, I do think they should be what people are led to believe they are: that the player has a random chance to get the various things in the boxes. If the boxes are being manipulated to change the odds at various times, or to tailor the results to specific individuals, that ain’t right. It’s at the very best misrepresenting what these things really are, and at worst it’s fraud. Having the odds published prevents that kind of thing: if anyone suspected that the odds were wrong, they could complain to Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo, and the game could be audited, or at the very least the publisher/devs questioned. The player (or rather, payer) knows the odds, and can make a rational decision based on those odds, and what they value the various prizes to be.

I also think that the box should give something of ‘equal’ or greater value compared to the cost of opening the box. For example, in Star Trek Online, even the worst booby prizes in their boxes had equivalents in the normal cash shop that were the same or greater price than the keys to open the boxes. Even if you didn’t get what you wanted (and most people just want the top prize or two), you still got something for your 125 Zen that would cost 125+ Zen if it were in the store. (Whether those things were worth what they cost in the cash shop is another argument entirely.) This also, conveniently, throws out the gambling argument, at least from a legal (and thus actionable) angle. (Also, all of the actually decent prizes are tradable, so you don’t even need to engage the boxes themselves to get even the top prize.)

The most common thing said against lootboxes is that they are predatory towards children, in that children can’t control their spending, since they don’t associate the price with what they get, or something to that nature. That might be so, but the counter to this is: children can’t get credit cards, and they can’t get bank cards very easily. If they are running up their parents’ credit cards, that’s on the parents not having control of their financials. And as for going to the corner store to buy Google Play cards or whatever? That’s got a limit, because they have to use money they actually have, in-hand, to get that stuff; and if that’s how they want to spend their money, that’s their thing, and it’s between them and their parents.

I’ll leave with my personal view on personally using lootboxes, myself: I don’t really mind that they exist, but I don’t make much use of them. I’m certainly not averse to putting up my dosh for random chance stuff: I do play gacha games, after all, and even sometimes pay for those rolls. But lootboxes are different from gacha, in a sense. More limited, I feel. But they are fun to open, on occasion, just to see what comes out. I’d never open them for the chance at the top prize. But, like going to Vegas just to play the games, opening the boxes can be somewhat fun in itself.

High Difficulty in Games Kills Me

I really hate difficulty in video games. Or rather, I really hate losing. I know, pretty much everyone hates losing. But I’m specifically talking about video games, here. I play games for entertainment. I don’t want to be particularly challenged by that entertainment. I know some folks think something is boring if it’s not risky or dangerous (even in a non-real sense); that’s not me. Other folks get satisfaction from a overcoming an obstacle in a game; not me, either.

I see games just like a movie or a book. It seems silly to lose in a movie or book, as a consumer of that entertainment. I don’t want a test of skill or necessarily knowledge just to enjoy my entertainment (outside of the basics, like knowing how to read). Sure, skill and knowledge can, and should, enhance the entertainment experience. I’m all for that.

But I’m against getting frustrated at my entertainment. I think it’s really the opposite of what entertainment is supposed to be. If my jimmies are getting seriously rustled, if I can’t get what I want out of a thing just because I need to git gud, I think that’s not entertainment.

Now, I know that’s going to lock me out of certain games from the word go…and that’s perfectly fine. I’m not going to be playing Super Meat Boy…ever. Or any of those games like that. Cuphead? Nope. Most any multiplayer shooter? Count me out. Are those games good? Maybe. But I won’t enjoy them, but rather just get frustrated and crazy, and I’d rather live without the experience of the game.

Which takes me to RPG’s. I don’t like difficulty there either. But it’s even more frustrating in these sort of story games, because, generally speaking, the point of the game is to tell a story to the gamer, in an interactive way. I’m easy to please when it comes to those things, so I’m not too picky. But difficulty in RPG’s keeps the player from experiencing the story, which is, again, kinda the point. (In fact, it could be argued that the sorts of gameplays that go with RPG’s generally wouldn’t work on their own – too boring for the most part – but the story elevates the game as a whole to being worth going through.)

Now, of course devs can want to make difficulty a part of the experience, just like any other game. That’s their right. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s the most frustrating when the rest of the game is…not difficult at all. But then you get to a point when Difficulty is a thing, often all of a sudden. These are the worst, in my opinion. I’m just doing great, and then BAM, progress is blocked. In RPG’s (especially JRPG’s) this usually means it’s time to grind, and I hate that too, especially in more modern RPG’s where there can be anti-grind mechanics as well.

The game that brought this up? Atelier Lulua. In an attempt to reduce difficulty, I look up guides, to prepare to make things easier in the future. I’m pretty late-game (at the last chapter, so yah, late game), so I’m looking up boss fight mechanics. Most of the bosses in the game have been relatively easy, but the bosses in the previous chapter got all sorts of mean, right quick, but not something I couldn’t handle with a bit of preparation. Even the final boss of the chapter (not all chapters had bosses, but this one did) was a real toughy.

Atelier games have historically had optional bosses of excessive difficulty. I’m totally cool with that. Note how they’re optional. Sometimes I even take the option, just to see what they’re like. This game is no different. I was taking a look at them, seeing if it was worth my time to go after them. Then I went further, and looked at the end boss. Below I’ll show you both the end-boss of the penultimate chapter, and the end-boss of the game (and the chapter I’m currently on):

They’re basically the same boss, just the latter is more advanced. Fine, that’s fair. But the top was one I was barely able to defeat, and is, in many ways, already stronger than the later optional bosses. That ~9k HP is quite a big jump (it’s right after another boss, which has ~9k total HP – which also makes this a sort of boss gauntlet). And of course it’s got stronger attacks and more resistances, etc. Oh, and the kicker? You can go from the top boss to the bottom boss extremely quickly, in terms of game time (if you’ve been keeping up with your alchemy, you’ve pretty much done most of the required stuff previously). That kind of sudden difficulty spike is something that, when I read it in the guide last night, totally killed my motivation to play last night.

These sort of very hard bosses, and/or very long grinds, have killed games for me. I’ve only gotten through about half of the Atelier games I’ve played, for this reason. They have a very nice, mostly relaxed gameplay loop for the first 2/3-3/4 of the game, and then either a frantic rush to grind out whatever you need to do before time runs out (in the older games), or a long slog to grind out that last bit so you can get a good end. (I’m convinced that some of them are designed to be impossible to get the better/best ends until after playing the whole game over again in NG+.)

Call me a scrub, a noob, a heretic. I just don’t like that kind of stuff.

Oddly, not difficult to beat the knight in arm rasling.

The problem of low-level high-level content in multiplayer RPG’s

Last night I came across a problem in Dragalia Lost that pretty much all multiplayer RPG’s (which includes MMO’s of course) must deal with: what to do about high-level content that the high-level players have already passed.

In this particular case, I was trying to do the High Midgardsommr raid/quest. It’s the first in the current “end-game” series of High Greatwurm quests. And by first, I mean chronologically – it came out shortly after the game did, several months ago. As often happens in these sort of mobile games (which are pretty much bite-sized MMORPG’s), content is dripped out. High Midgardsommr came out first, then another (High Brunhilda) a couple months later, then another a few months after that (High Mercury), and then last night the latest (High Jupiter). Because of the time delay involved, players have had a bunch of time to play each one. These quests take quite a bit of grinding and preparation to even access (there’s basically a gear check attack at the beginning of each one), and skill is required to complete. Thus, the “better” players are there at the start, and everyone else has to catch up. This is how it always is, so no problem there.

The problem comes when those better players stop playing the older stuff. Of course they’re going to focus on the new, shiny things. But newer, casual, or worse players are eventually going to come up to the “endgame” status too. They will come in to the first stuff. But they will fail if they don’t get help. And a bunch of newbs and bads won’t complete things the first time – probably won’t even know why they fail. (Even in [current year], expecting everyone to use outside calculators, tutorials, wikis, etc. is asking too much, I think.) They need to get carried, simple as that. If no one is around to help them out, they’ll most likely get discouraged, quit, and give bad word-of-mouth.

In DL, there is not really any reason to go back to the older raids, once you’re “done” with them. If you’ve memorized the patterns, there’s no challenge. And you will, because you’ve done this dozens, if not hundreds, of times, to grind out materials. But the exclusive materials are only good for one or two things (the non-exclusive stuff is better farmed in the easier quests), and once you have those – which aren’t even necessary, and barely desirable, to be frank – there’s no reason to go back, unless you’re helping a friend. Not even to test your new skill and gear, since High Midgardsommr was made before months of changes that made the game overall less of a grind – and less challenging. But the cost of entry is the same as the other High Greatwurms – and over twice as much as other content.

As for me, last night I was stuck trying to get a single win. Most rooms were failing to stupid crap, indicating lack of skill and preparation. These were mostly folks with stats that should have indicated success, both in this quest and in general, but it was fail city. This is a quest that mostly needs all four people, if you don’t have a carry. Three can do it, if they are competent. Two is very hard, though. At this point, one dying, especially at the beginning, basically means just quit right then. And then there’s the party formation screen, and dodging folks that clearly can’t do the raid. So I was stuck for 40 minutes in fail city. For the ‘easy’ raid.

Granblue Fantasy is an example of getting it right. The materials you get from the lower quests are always useful, even at endgame. You can break down the gear drops you get, which gets you the materials you will need for upgrading endgame stuff. You need quite a bit of materials, and the lower-level raids are easy for more advanced players to just breeze through (some can do them in one turn with just pressing the big orange button). And since the earlier raids are cheap to join, there’s no reason why not.

Another way to solve this is to give extra rewards to players that join already-finished content. Star Trek Online gives extra rewards to players who join random raids, and players can choose the rewards that they want.

As someone who’s interested in joining already-established games, I hope that this problem has been solved, so I don’t have to spend forever waiting for success.