14 January, 2011
I came across another interesting review of TRON: Legacy today over at Terra Nova: Blizzard is CLU. It goes into some interesting detail about the nature of MMOs and how the “living parts” were driven out, reminiscent of the plot of the movie. (Warning, there are some mild spoilers in that article if you haven’t seen the movie yet.)
This brought up some thoughts about chaos and order as they apply to game design trends. Read on for my take.
If you’re interested in seeing a review of TRON: Legacy or the themes of chaos vs. order in cyberpunk, you might check out some of my articles over at The Internet Crashed.
In game design, you see this theme of order vs. chaos in MMO trends as pointed out in the Terra Nova article. In the past, MMO games were a lot more chaotic as players found the corner cases and holes in the design. Usually these were seen as interesting variations and they provided an extension to gameplay. The downside was that these holes in the design were rarely documented, so “abusing” the flaws was seen by some as a potentially unfair advantage. The fine line between “interesting solution” and “downright exploit” was fine and sometimes depended on the mood of the person meting out punishment for a reported violation.
In general, many people strive to impose order on chaos. Along came World of Warcraft and imposed order on MMO gameplay. Using deep pockets, Blizzard created a world that was more orderly and stable than other competitors… and, perhaps more importantly, a lot more popular and financially successful than those competitors. The wild nature of the other games had been diminished in favor of a tightly scripted and controlled environment which people flocked to in large numbers. For some people, this is frustrating because with all this order there’s no room for the chaos needed to show new possibilities in game design. People keep chasing after the order imposed by Blizzard, but can’t quite match it for various reasons.
This theme is not unique to MMOs, however. In the past, we saw a lot of single-player games where the the exceptions improved gameplay. In many old games, you played “by the rules” for a lot of the time, but then an exception would be thrown in as a sort of puzzle. Given the limited resources, these exceptions would be notable and built up because they had to be special. Eventually, as systems expanded and increased you saw what were exceptions being adopted into the rules of the game. Thus what used to be something special got adopted into the rules of the genre and became standard. What was once chaotic became part of the order.
We often see a genre become so well defined and locked down that innovation becomes impossible because its all just variations on existing themes. Those of you who have been gaming for a while might remember RPGs in the early 1990s; or, more accurately, the lack of great games during this time. RPGs had been done to death, and there just wasn’t any way that adding a few new stats was going to make collecting yet another bag of gold from a band of generic orcs seem more exciting. It wasn’t until a little game called Diablo came out that you saw something different. No, it wasn’t really an RPG, but that’s kind of the point. It opened up new opportunities for action RPGs and revitalized the genre. It provided a spark that got people interested in RPGs once again and lead to the creation of some more recent classics.
So, what do you think? Do we see too much order in games? Or is chaos in game design just overrated?