A little bit hardcore

Played about in EQ2 extended again last night, and once again ran into some old EQ1 bods and got talking.

It’s hard not to look back on my EverQuest 1 experience without rose tinted glasses, but the reality is that it was a brutal gaming experience. Like playing blackjack with only the dealer seeing your cards until you bust or stick.

Imagine for a moment: EverQuest 1 is a rock, “fun” from playing a game is blood, and you are a vampire with nothing to eat but said rock…

The same way that 100 years ago a wheel and a stick was amazing fun, compared to 50 years ago where Monopoly was amazing fun, compared to 20 years ago when Pong was amazing fun compared to today where 10 million people consider playing an online 3d graphical computer fantasy game to be a baseline for fun… 10 years ago, searching for your corpse in a just-barely 3d online game was fun.

People accuse Warcraft of being dumbed down, but really it’s dumbed up. EQ1 started with no auction house, for instance. On my server, players went to the tunnel in East Commonlands and /yell’d their wares. It was a bonafide flea market/jamboree.

Warcraft’s Auction House is far from “dumb”, but for players who relished the social element of buying and trading in EQ1 it’s definitely a negative.

I think most folks would agree it to be a minor issue, though. What old-timers harp over are things like corpse runs (note: EQ2 ditched them, WoW still has them). For Warcrafters: Imagine if, after dying, instead of coming back as a ghost, you came back alive but naked and have to run back to and loot your corpse. No option to spirit rez.

Tricky, eh? Oh, did I forget to mention that you also lost experience (and possibly your level, or multiple levels if you keep dying) and that if you didn’t recover your corpse within 24 hours … it and all of the items on it would poof?

Dying was a huge deal in EverQuest1. You really wanted to avoid it. If something could kill you while fully geared, getting at your corpse while naked was going to be an issue…

Let me cut to the chase: EverQuest 1 was a lousy game, what made it an awesome experience was the wealth of player-to-player situations that arose. People who played EQ1 together formed a camaraderie that compares vs WoW the way combat troops bond vs reserves who never see action.

On almost every measurable level, Warcraft and EverQuest 2 are better games. But neither of them serves the player with any real adversity, because adversity sucks.

Brad McQuaid tried to restore some Old School with Vanguard, and it has been commented that the hard cores didn’t rush to it in droves, or didn’t stick it out when they got there.

Why do the two experiences have to be treated as mutually exclusive?

Why can’t the bells and whistles be an option?

The answer is that, historically, hard core gamers have a very vocal sub-community of people who think that hard core gaming is too soft.

I think the reality is that hard core gaming is self-defeating, because very few people are actually really that hard core, or at least not for a very long time.

People get jobs, people lose jobs, people get involved with other people and then get uninvolved, people have exams, etc, etc.

I say: Sod the hard-core-hard-mode-hard-core gamers. There are soft-core and mid-core gamers who like it a little bit hard core now and again.

I’ve been enjoying EQ2 with my friend Megan, who is not that much of a gamer. We’ve been coasting along on easy mode fights and taking down mobs that are a cakewalk. It gives us time to chat and relax, soak up the lore etc.

Fortunately, EQ2 throws you the option of getting in over your head now and again, and we both thrive on the opportunity of facing a real challenge.

Key word: Opportunity.

I think our game, Battleground Europe, one of our key selling points being “there are no NPCs”, could use a PvE component that players could go to for “ezmode battle”. In-character R&R.

I think EQ Next, WoW2, etc, need to maintain their soft-focus, but bring in the hard mode option.

Give us a toggle: I want to adventure in adversity vs I don’t feel the need to prove how awesome I am mode. Bragging rights are an integral part of today’s MMOs. So you don’t really need much more than that. The guy who says “It’s not fair – I worked really hard for this item, and that guy just pressed three buttons and the mob gave it to him” … that guy is not your target audience.

I want to be able to log in, maybe on a weekend after a really good nights sleep, after a good Sunday morning breakfast, a whole pot of coffee, and enter the game world with risk and dare. I want to spend the entire morning crossing one zone in jeopardy and fear, until my buddies log on and then I want to flick the easy mode switch and run back so I can hang out with them and goof around until dinner is ready.

I want to be able to go into an instance with hard mode set while my companions are in easy mode so that I get somewhere in the middle, with less bragging rights, because I’m feeling pugilistic.

I’ve been on raids that went badly, but where coming away with the fact that you made some progress felt really good, where failing spoke “challenge”. But I’ve been on raids that went badly where coming away just felt plain shitty.

When you haven’t quite completed the dungeon, why do we have to give up? Why can’t we decide whether to call it a loss vs turning on our personal/group easy mode flag and getting to the end? Yes, most players will choose easy mode and cruise to the end.

Why does that bother you? Do you even understand the concepts of thousands, tends of thousands, hundreds of thousands of runs of this instance, by all kinds of mixes and mixups of characters and players, all sorts of conditions and circumstances? What is it that bothers you, the 3 eight year olds that totally pwn the boss you thought was the ultimate boss ever encountered in any MMO past, present and future… Or is it the group of guys taking their buddy (now on tour in Iraq) for an old-times run to make him feel good and in touch, who want to show him the last boss and win him that shield he didn’t get when they were busting their chops on hard mode previously?

If that kind of thing bothers you, you’re missing out on so much: Get your head out from where the sun doesn’t actually shine, and imagine how much more fun you could potentially eek from encounters and experiences designed to offer two paths.

For this concept it’s important that both modes are designed in. Lets take the case of EverQuest Next…

In EverQuest 1, you had a limit of 8 spells/combat arts you could hot key at a time. You had as many spells – possibly more – than you have in today’s MMOs, but you could only have 8 of them active at once. You had to get out of combat and swap them out if you wanted others.

That mean’t you had to plan your hotbar in advance in many cases.

It could be alternately sucky or challenging, depending on the situation and your frame of mind.

EQ Next could make it an option. Give us the plethora of hotbars we are familiar with, but in hard-mode combat, only allow us to use hostile/friendly abilities from bar #1.

Most MMOs have this annoying habit of basing the success of things like attacks and spell casts on the percentage of your current skill vs your maximum skill. I say ‘annoying’ because this means every time you level, the same engagements actually become harder while you max out those skills again.

One minute you’re fighting even-match level 20 rats, and the fights are “slightly risky”. Then you level. Your stats go up, so the fights should be a little easier? No. The fights are actually now harder than they were when you were level 19 and the rats were tricky to fight, because your relative skill level has dropped. Your actual skill hasn’t gone down, but it’s now some percentage less than your max skill, and that – not your actual level of skill – that matters. BLARGH.

In both Warcraft and EQ, when you go from 20 to 21, if you were fighting challenging level 20 mobs, you have to time out and find level 19 mobs until your skills peak.

But I digress. Point here is that in easy-mode, the relevance of skill levels could be diminished; less resists, etc. You have requested easier fights. So be granted them. Only if you select hard-mode does the full brunt of whether you have your casting ability maxed need to be brought to bear.

If the dungeons and encounters are designed around that, IMHO they’re going to be different. Taking a traditional boss fight and applying it to this model is going to produce a boring, unfulfilling experience. It’s going to need a little different thinking.

It’s going to beg for more puzzle and a little more challenge in other dimensions.

Most Single Player games have a difficulty level option, and it’s rare for an AAA title not to allow you to adjust that difficulty level on the fly.

So why are MMO designers still working in the stone age, where they choose the difficulty level and if you want a different level of challenge, well screw you.

Those of you who consider fixed-difficulty-hard-mode MMOs to be the gold era of MMOs, I’m sorry for not sharing your passion, but as much as I loved playing EQ1, I would never more than visit a 2001 EQ1 server for the sake of nostalgia, and I’m pretty sure the same is true for most people.

But there’s good news: If a game is designed around the split levels of difficulty, there’s no reason they couldn’t throw in a hard-only shard for you folks, so you don’t have to put up with the likes of us care-bears. Then, I can choose whether to be punished or pleasured by my game based on my mood, the kind of day I had, whether I have cheese or tomatoes in the fridge… Whatever.

8 Comments

Best. Post. Evah. Especially with last paragraph as cherry on top.

Despite acknowledging how powerful an experience EQ1 was for players, you seem to not understand what a game is. Creating emotions like the camaraderie you mentioned are the exact point of all games. If the player is given control over the difficulty, it is impossible to create fear. Without fear there is no awe. Without fear there is no real camaraderie when you and your friends overcome the danger.

Allowing players to make the game world predictable hamstrings developers ability to create the situations where strong, long-lasting emotions can occur. The most interesting thing I get from reading this post is how strong your aversion to entering situations where failure is even a remotely possible consequence unless you give your express consent. Most people are like that though. There are gameplay possibilities to explore here. A game where the point is to avoid danger at all costs? Where something like tranquility is the reward. Something to ponder about.

No, that’s not the point of games at all. That’s what you are looking for from games. Most people are looking for entertainment. That is why, as I already said, most single player games have a difficulty level setting that can be changed pretty much on the fly.

As for “the most interesting thing I get from reading this post” – I call bs. You didn’t read it. You saw the word hardcore and wrote a predictable, stereotypical hardcore response. “strong … aversion”. Yeah, right. That’s what you saw? Clearly you have a strong aversion to comprehension where your world view might be challenged, c.f.

I’ve been on raids that went badly, but where coming away with the fact that you made some progress felt really good, where failing spoke “challenge”. But I’ve been on raids that went badly where coming away just felt plain shitty.

Well, I definitely have days where I have an aversion to coming home and being “entertained” by failing. So I could just choose to play a different game. Course, you perhaps don’t get many groups when you play online so you don’t realize how bad important that kind of decision point is for the health of an MMO.

I’m not asking for an Easy Mode MMO. I’m asking for a hard-core-integrated MMO that incorporates per-player difficulty level selection from the ground up, so that I don’t have to say “hell, I’ve had a real shitty day, you guys will have to do without your healer today” instead of “I had a shitty day today, I’m just gonna play in easy mode, k?”

But TYVM for providing a demonstration of exactly the kind of extremist hardcore nutjob game devs need to ignore when trying to cater to “a little bit hardcore” instead of trying for balls-to-the-wallism.

Balance issues aside (namely that LK swung the easy-meter way too far to the easy side, so much so that heroics now are trivial) .. how does WoW not accomplish what you’re looking for? Almost everything in the game (except outside content) has normal and heroic versions, and come cataclysm, the heroic versions will be very much more challenging.

Also, there’s the whole PvP thing as well. If you want a casual challenge, go run some battlegrounds .. hardcore challenge, Arenas .. or come cataclysm, rated battlegrounds.

For what it’s worth, I very much agree with your sentiment about EQ1 being an amazing experience but a crappy game. The players made it such, not the game. I’ve had similar, if not even more significant, experiences in WoW.

Well, I actually *like* the hardcore elements of EQ1, I just had my fill of being beaten with that stick. What it all comes down to is /personal/ rather than mass choice. I’m currently having more fun in EQ2 than I had in WoW, because it’s harder – but the reason I left EQ2 for WoW was that WoW wasn’t in-your-face all the time. Like the dungeon difficulty, but that’s an addition. If you design the game from the start with a dynamic difficulty level setting, then you can provide options like “corpse recovery” etc as switch-and-balance for a host of rewards.

If I’m sitting down on Friday night to a weekend-long fray of adventuring with my friends, we might choose to go full-on challenge: gear on corpses, limited number of abilities, etc, etc. But if it’s a Tuesday night after a long start to the week, I might want to flip it down to “make the mobs beg for mercy” mode.

…with rewards commensurate to the risk, and I agree if what I am reading into it is what you are actually saying…

I do think Hard Mode needs to be rewarded differently, but I think it comes down to the individual game/target audience; on the one hand, if you want a wow-sized audience, you probably ought to distinguish hardmode rewards from softmode by their appearances, names, and cash values (i.e. hardmode guys get “+9000 Leetness staff of Leet” that glows and sparkles, but has the same game stats as the “Prius Staff of … Prius”), and obviously you have to get the hardmode variant to get the hardmode achievements etc like “full set of hardmode uber gear”. It’ll be swings and roundabouts with the serious hardcore gamers as to whether that is sufficient.

The other option – the one that the carebears flip out over – is to have different tiers of equipment. This is actually my preferred model. It has a holy-water type effect on most of us in carebear mode because … OMG – but I *need* the +9000 Staff of Leetness in order to get in on an XYZ Raid! No group will take me without it!

Well, that’s because difficulty level stuff wasn’t designed in from the ground up in past games. WoW’s implementation of dungeon modes is good, but IMHO it still suffers from elitism between runs because they are a – well executed – addition rather than an underlying principle.

Hmmm, I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing. The WoW heroic stuff definitely falls into your 2nd category, especially in cataclysm. The new model for cata is that 10 & 25 are the same rewards (more rewards per person in 25), and heroics (both sizes) similarly share rewards, but are a tier above the “normal” rewards.

As for “designed in from the ground up” vs “well executed additions” .. that also makes me scratch my head a little. Sure, there’s a few things that are just so deep that to change it, you might as well be making a different game (for example, hey, let’s make ww2ol use a wow-style targeting system!) Player behavior incentives & rewards, though .. that’s the kind of stuff you really can redo from the ground up as an “addition”.

A good example of this that has had a tremendous impact on player behavior is the achievement system.

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