Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

14 January, 2011

Order vs. Chaos
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:43 AM

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?


« Previous Post:
Next Post: »





13 Comments »

  1. All my friends play WoW, so I’ve heard an awful lot of detail about it over the years, and I’ve reached the conclusion that it barely deserves the title of MMO any more. Most of the gameplay that I hear about is in small groups, in instances, in a scripted environment. Well, a non MMO multiplayer game (say, team fortress 2) can be characterised by a game where players work on the same objective, many times over, in several servers which are completely unable to interfere with one another; which is exactly what the majority of WoW has turned into. Then I look at games like Eve Online, where we routinely see reports of battles with thousands of players, with full blown politics between factions, or planetside where people can work in huge groups to achieve a goal together, and I have to wonder why anyone even bothers with WoW any more.

    Comment by Martin Evans — 14 January, 2011 @ 4:25 AM

  2. I *liked* 90′s RPGs :)

    Comment by unwesen — 14 January, 2011 @ 5:59 AM

  3. Yes, Diablo was nice, but it in no way replaced RPGs for me. It’s an action game that uses some rpg tricks. Mostly character building and collecting stuff.

    Comment by Nils — 14 January, 2011 @ 9:04 AM

  4. Players enjoy feeling like their ability to bump up against other players in MMOs matters. On the non-PvP servers in WoW alliance and horde are reduced to sending emotes at one another — it’s rather stale.

    On the PvP servers, which are quite docile for the most part, PvP can result in some entertaining gaming. It can also tilt the other way and result in irritating gaming.

    If you could introduce more chaos and somehow tilt the experience so that the irritation is minor and the entertainment is major, I’m all for it. If it’s otherwise, I prefer a less chaotic experience. After all, it’s a game. It’s a few hours of entertainment. It’s not an alternate life.

    Comment by Mark — 14 January, 2011 @ 9:36 AM

  5. unwesen wrote:
    I *liked* 90′s RPGs :)

    Nils wrote:
    Yes, Diablo was nice, but it in no way replaced RPGs for me.

    Yes, there were RPGs in the 90′s. Yes, Diablo didn’t wipe out the existence of Might & Magic or Wizardry. But, you both seem to be forgetting history. Right before Diablo came out, people were declaring the RPG dead. It wasn’t until Diablo (and the thousands of “is it REALLY an RPG?” threads) that revitalized the genre. It drew enough interest that RPGs found new life.

    I suspect this is what people hoped WoW would do for MMOs: bring a new perspective and revitalize them. I suspect the problem is that WoW came too soon in the lifecycle of MMOs. We had a few viable alternatives and roads to explore, but WoW’s overwhelming success forced all focus to what they did to achieve success. Sadly, I think most people miss what really spurred their success.

    Comment by Psychochild — 14 January, 2011 @ 7:28 PM

  6. “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.”

    Tsk. Surely you mean the mid-90s? I’m pretty sure there were some great RPGs in the early 90s, including most of my all-time favorites such as Ultima VII and Ultima Underworld II.

    But also, I credit Final Fantasy VII PC more than Diablo for getting us out of the lack-of-good-RPGs rut. FF7 was even more different to “standard” PC RPGs than Diablo was, with it’s 3D characters, horrifically railroaded but epic and refreshing story, sweet character customization system, 20th century heavy industry meets swords & sorcery world design, awesome music, and overall base design coming from the Dragon Quest / Final Fantasy style RPGs rather than Wizardry / Ultima / licensed D&D RPGs. It was RPG-as-cinematic-experience as opposed to RPG-as-simulation.

    And most importantly, despite it’s own delays, those delays weren’t nearly as bad as the ones that plagued Ultima IX or Wizardry VIII. FF7 was deliberately limited in scope (relatively speaking) so the project could be completed in a relatively short span of time. Most Western RPG franchises from the 80s died out because the time it took to fill out the massive worlds with the ever-escalating level of simulation the creators wanted at the ever increasing level of graphical detail that PCs were capable of, too longer and longer until they all suffered the same fate as Duke Nukem Forever.

    That’s my take on what happened.

    Comment by MadTinkerer — 17 January, 2011 @ 1:04 AM

  7. And I forgot to actually reply to that last bit in the article about order vs. chaos.

    IMHO, it’s not really about order vs. chaos, but coming up with good rules (order) that result in interesting emergent experience (“chaos”). Minecraft is a good example. The crafting recipes are 100% fixed in place, but the size and shape of the materials you can craft with depends on your starting location. Crafting drives exploration which encourages combat which nets crafting materials. “Non-craftable” can still be used as building blocks for various kinds of shelter.

    The fact that the world is made of simple blocks shatters the normal limitations of light sources and pre-computed lighting: In Minecraft you can craft and place an unlimited number of light sources, while most “sophisticated” engines limit you to carrying movable light source if you’re lucky. This capability to place as many light sources as you want leads to a unique mechanic where monsters only spawn in dark areas (or unlit areas at night) and you can create 100% safe zones by simply lighting up areas and blocking them off.

    Another advantage of having the world be made of simple blocks, and giving the player the ability to move and place any block is the Creeper, a unique type of creature that explodes. Unlike B-Bombs, for example, the real danger with creepers is not necessarily that they’ll kill the player but that they’ll damage the player’s carefully built buildings. This is so far out of the normal monster paradigm that it can only have arisen from constant experimentation with unproven rules and could not have been designed on paper for standard game engines.

    So yeah: give me “chaos” any day of the week, as long as it’s done right.

    Comment by MadTinkerer — 17 January, 2011 @ 1:19 AM

  8. MadTinkerer wrote:
    I’m pretty sure there were some great RPGs in the early 90s, including most of my all-time favorites such as Ultima VII

    Eh, I think Ultima VII is a good case study to support my claims. It the culmination of previous RPGs and it was huge and unwieldy for the uninitiated; it was hard to get into unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool RPG fan. I’m not sure about sales figures, but keep in mind this was the last Ultima before EA acquired Origin (for reasons of being short of operating funds by admission of Garriott), so it almost certainly didn’t sell as well as hoped. For many publishers, it was the sign that RPGs were done for. Note that the sequel Ultima VIII was a radically different game, almost more of an adventure game than an RPG, showing that a number of people didn’t have much faith in sticking to the old formulas.

    If nothing else, let’s at least agree that Diablo showed that RPG elements could be mixed in with other types of games. It didn’t have to be a party-focused, turn-based game.

    As for console RPGs (which Final Fantasy VII is one, even if it had a relatively popular PC port), that’s a whole other issue. It took a while before Western developers really caught up to what Japanese developers were doing.

    Crafting drives exploration which encourages combat which nets crafting materials.

    In the vein of if Mario was designed in 2010, let’s image if Minecraft were designed by Blizzard. You’d start out in a pre-designed area with different types of resources. You’d have an NPC with a block exclamation point over his head, and clicking on him would give you a series of quests. The first one would tell you to gather some wood, then the next one would be about creating sticks and a wooden pickaxe. Next quest would tell you to go dig out a base in a nearby rock wall with your pickaxe, but only in a specific location. During these quests you wouldn’t progress and you wouldn’t have any monsters. Only after you had done the quest to put a door on your structure would the game allow night to progress. Then the NPC would be inside (via the magic of phasing!), giving you more quests to let you pass the night doing stuff. You’d have to craft 10 wooden pickaxes then you’d get the recipe to craft 10 wooden axes, etc.

    Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit silly here, but you get the point. See the differences? The WoW/Blizzard way is about the pre-defined experience that keeps you busy and entertained. Minecraft is much more interesting precisely because it isn’t structured. I mean, it doesn’t even have a tutorial, which should be death for a game according to conventional wisdom. But, I think it has stood out from the crowd of other games because it is so chaotic, compared to the trend of being highly structured.

    So yeah: give me “chaos” any day of the week, as long as it’s done right.

    That’s the problem: chaos by tautological definition is chaotic. There really is no way to do it “right”. You kind of have to do it and hope that others take to it.

    That’s why the safe thing to do in big-budget game development is to make clones and sequels instead of creating your own original work. Even in the realm of indie games, for every Minecraft there are dozens of games like Golemizer or Infiniminer that allow a lot of chaotic freedom, but that don’t grab people for whatever reason. I’m happy that it’s done well, but we’ll see if Mojang Specification’s next game enjoys the same level of success. For now, however, I’ll say that Minecraft is a fluke; not something you should build your own business around trying to emulate.

    Anyway, thanks for your insightful comments. Glad this has gotten some people posting some intelligent things to discuss!

    Comment by Psychochild — 17 January, 2011 @ 6:38 PM

  9. Send in the clones

    [...] an existing game with a proven audience cut down on the development time and uncertainty (that is, the chaos) of a new [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 19 January, 2011 @ 4:32 PM

  10. Hello. I am in Psychochild’s DDO guild so I started reading his blog recently. I am not a programmer, but have an interest because of my love of computer games and the many friends I have that are programmers.

    I guess I’ve always wondered at this attitude toward WoW. So many people say they hate it or deplore its quality, yet its so popular. I’m not saying its a work of art, but if its so terrible, why do so many people play it? To me its like McDonalds. Everyone deplores McDonalds as well and yet its the most successful fast food chain in the world.

    With the disclaimer of not being a game dev, I think that rather than dismiss WoW out of hand, there should be some investigation into what makes WoW so popular. Somehow I don’t think people play it because its rote, linear, pap. Certainly its accessible and people like doing what other people are doing. But I don’t think that’s all of it. I did read Psychochild’s POV on this issue in a previous post and I believe its the foundation. But I think there’s more.

    Also I see posts everywhere lamenting that there isn’t more variety in MMOs, but I think there is. I look at A Tale in the Desert, Minecraft, Aion, and Eve and it looks like a lot of variety to me. Certainly they’re not completely different from WoW, but you can’t start with completely different. Each has an element that is a departure from your standard MMO. And why are they not more popular? I’m sure a huge factor is advertising. How many “mainstream” people even know about these games? Somehow I don’t think the solution is to make more MMOs that are different in the hopes of creating a “hit”. Any other game you make will be equally unknown to the masses. I think if you want a smash hit MMO, you need better advertising. And not just advertising in game magazines and on game sites. IMO the vast majority of people who play WoW have never read either.

    Finally, if gamers do try other MMOs and end up going back to WoW, maybe they just like it better. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. If some people want a different kind of game and the masses want WoW or Farmville, I think its a waste of time to try to “educate” the masses to want something different. I have friends who like hamburgers and pizza and nothing I have done over the years has persuaded them to try Indian food or sushi. I think that if you define anything that’s not WoW as a “niche” MMO then everything that’s not WoW is going to be a “niche” MMO for the foreseeable future.

    Comment by Djinn — 20 January, 2011 @ 8:37 AM

  11. Heya, Eldarial! :)

    Djinn wrote:
    I’m not saying its a work of art, but if its so terrible, why do so many people play it? To me its like McDonalds. Everyone deplores McDonalds as well and yet its the most successful fast food chain in the world.

    Which is funny, since I usually use McDonald’s as a point to show that popularity doesn’t equal quality. As I remember, you said you enjoyed sushi; would you eat sushi from McDonald’s? I certainly wouldn’t, but then again I don’t even like hamburgers from McDonald’s these days. There’s a lot we could do to improve food quality and healthiness; pointing out that McDonald’s is popular can give the impression that we don’t need to do anything about these issues. Some of us want something better than overcooked mid-grade beef and pressed and fried chicken slurry. The problem is, to extend the metaphor, that people are talking about how great a sushi restaurant will be, then bitterly complaining when McDonald’s isn’t serving sushi, let alone the glorious version they’ve heard about on TV.

    …I think that rather than dismiss WoW out of hand, there should be some investigation into what makes WoW so popular.

    I don’t think it’s so much people dismissing WoW as lamenting that it dominates the conversations so thoroughly. Yes, even I’m guilty of bringing up tons of WoW examples in my own work. But, it seems some people can’t look past the lens of how WoW does things. Not just in blog posts and comments on big MMO sites, but also when talking to investors. We all accept that WoW is here and not going away and is popular, but there are other issues to address that WoW doesn’t cover.

    The problem is that analyzing what makes something successful is usually in the realm of opinion unless copious amounts of data were collected. Even asking players directly will only give you scattered and probably conflicting answers. My own opinion, as you’ve probably read, is that the main contributor is the decade of reputation Blizzard built before launching WoW. I think that’s related to your “advertising” point you bring up. Can I conclusively prove that as the main contributor of success? Unfortunately, no. If only I had window into an alternate dimension where Blizzard was a relative nobody but still launched WoW, then we’d know for sure. Until then, speculation reigns!

    I look at A Tale in the Desert, Minecraft, Aion, and Eve and it looks like a lot of variety to me.

    I hesitate to call Minecraft an MMO. ATitD and EVE are both a few years shy of a decade old. I’ve not played Aion, but the reports I’ve heard were that it was a typical Korean grind-fest game with some concessions made to Western tastes. Not exactly a shining list showing that people are still interesting in exploring new frontiers of MMO design.

    If some people want a different kind of game and the masses want WoW or Farmville, I think its a waste of time to try to “educate” the masses to want something different.

    I think the ultimate frustration is when there’s a hue and cry from MMO players (and even gamers in general) for something different. I’ve lost track of the number of blogs I’ve read complaining about WoW, but who still wrote extensively about Cataclysm in a breathless tone when it launched. The audience still primarily plays WoW and will only consider big-budget alternatives with high production values. The reality is that big-budget games are going to be conservative in nature, and more likely to copy previous success rather than trying to do something original. So, either you have to find an investor willing to throw away large sums of money on a big risk (those days are gone), or educate the audience about why you don’t get big-budget, innovative games. Or, I guess, one could just accept that MMOs are stagnant and move on. If you know another option, let’s hear it!

    Comment by Psychochild — 20 January, 2011 @ 4:56 PM

  12. @psychochild said “Which is funny, since I usually use McDonald’s as a point to show that popularity doesn’t equal quality.”

    And I’m certainly not saying that either is “quality” to me. What I’m saying is that I wonder if they are to many other people. People make judgements about both, but ultimately those are our opinions, not “fact”. You say you can’t speculate why it is that WoW is so popular. Maybe many people actually like both for their own reasons. And if that is true, my point about “the masses” is that if what they like is what you call bland, perhaps its impossible to create another mass hit MMO that is really any different than WoW.

    And I’m not saying that we should give up on MMOs, perhaps just give up on anything on the scale of WoW. We should go back to when we all agreed that EQ was a hit because those players were primarily what we used to call “gamers”. I guess that is partially “educating the audience” but I guess I wonder what you mean by “big budget”. I agree that we probably won’t have an innovative game in the near future with a budget even half of ToR. But are you saying you can’t produce a quality game unless you have that kind of budget?

    Comment by Djinn — 20 January, 2011 @ 8:26 PM

  13. Djinn wrote:
    But are you saying you can’t produce a quality game unless you have that kind of budget?

    Sadly, that’s looking to be the case. The previous problem is that investors have only really wanted to bet big on a company that could de-throne Blizzard. They weren’t interested in more modest projects. The more immediate problem is that they don’t see MMOs as being attractive anymore since they couldn’t beat WoW.

    The only projects that look at all bright on the horizon are very big-budget games: Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, etc. Making a highly profitable game for “only” a few million dollars (like Dark Age of Cameolot, etc.) is not seen as appealing. So, we’re stuck in our current situation.

    Comment by Psychochild — 21 January, 2011 @ 2:19 AM

Leave a comment

I value your comment and think the discussions are the best part of this blog. However, there's this scourge called comment spam, so I choose to moderate comments rather than giving filthy spammers any advantage.

If this is your first comment, it will be held for moderation and therefore will not show up immediately. I will approve your comment when I can, usually within a day. Comments should eventually be approved if not spam. If your comment doesn't show up and it wasn't spam, send me an email as the spam catchers might have caught it by accident.

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Email Subscription

Get posts by email:


Recent Comments

Categories

Search the Blog

Calendar

May 2017
S M T W T F S
« Apr    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Meta

Archives

Standard Disclaimer

I speak only for myself, not for any company.

My Book





Information

Around the Internet

Game and Online Developers

Game News Sites

Game Ranters and Discussion

Help for Businesses

Other Fun Stuff

Quiet (aka Dead) Sites

Posts Copyright Brian Green, aka Psychochild. Comments belong to their authors.

Support me and my work on