Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

29 January, 2011

Mastery of Might and Magic
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 12:33 AM

There are a certain set of what I like to call “occupational hazards” in being a game developer/designer. The biggest one is that you spend a lot of time playing games. The corollary is that you spend a lot of time analyzing games, too. Having a wide range of experience with different games gives you a lot of reference points for the “rules” of different types of games. Not merely to copy them, but to also know when your “original” idea has even a chance of truly being original. Plus, I like the phrase, “You have to know the rules in order to break them.”

I’ve been playing some Might and Magic: Book 1 (M&M1) lately. So, let me share some of my analysis with you, so I don’t feel like I’ve completely wasted my time playing a truly old-school game.

First, I want to blame The CRPG Addict and the Rampant Coyote for leading me to the dark side here. I highly recommend both blogs, but the CRPG Addict is really great for looking back at older computer RPGs without some graphics snob whining (too much) about simplistic presentation.

What’s interesting is that I’ve noticed that I have gone though some very distinct stages while playing the game. I won’t claim these are universal, but let me give you a bit of insight into my thoughts.

Anticipation

The first feeling is one of anticipation; the hunger that makes the meal look all the more tempting. In the olden days, this was usually accomplished by reading the manual driving home from the store. These days you get it a bit more by reading blogs, like the ones I linked above. I had never played M&M1 or 2, so those posts whet my appetite for it. (I have played many of the other M&M games, a bit of 3 up until the point where every enemy just killed me outright with death rays, a lot of 3-8 with 7 being my favorite, and the first four installments of the Heroes of Might & Magic turn-based strategy games. So, I’m no newbie to the series, let alone RPGs, here.)

I roll up my six characters and come up with a cute naming scheme. This time around, I used the names of my cats, past and present: Kokopelli (Knight), Morpheus (Paladin), Loki (Robber), Macha (Cleric), Tezcatlipoca (Archer), and Susano (Sorcerer). Picking classes appropriate to my cats’ personalities is half the fun. Then we set off!

Shame

A distinctly modern phenomenon is that sometimes you’ll feel a bit ashamed while playing older games. M&M1 in particular is a bit funny because your better half and best friend might wander into your room at different times asking, “What’s that beeping noise?” Ah, the joys of old games that used the built-in PC speaker. But, I’m not playing the game for the graphics or sounds, I want gameplay!

The beat-down

One interesting thing about the old-school games is that they don’t hold your hand, at all. For every fight with a few goblins for you to beat up, you’ll might also run into a fight with some caster enemies who paralyze your Cleric before you can get the bless spell off, thus making combat nigh unwinnable. Hell, if you don’t abuse the pre-built characters you don’t even get much in the way of starting gear, so every fight seems like a hard-won epic battle. Wandering off too far to explore gets you killed, and you’ll lose all that gold and xp you built up. So, you learn to scurry back to the inn to save as often as you can, but that gets boring. Part of the fun of these games is exploring and making maps!

So, you gain a few levels, get some new spells, get a bit more confident, and venture further. You still fear the combat screen, but you win a few more combats than you lose.

Bringing order to chaos

I think one of my favorite parts of the old-school RPG is drawing maps. The simplistic grid-based system of the games means that it’s not too tough to draw out the map. In the good old days, we used graph paper. These days, I whipped up a little program in Python using the PyGame libraries. It’s not super-elegant, but it works well enough.

Image of my program

May contain spoilers.

I’ve noticed that mapping proves a good counter-point to the often short and brutal lifespan of your characters. A wrong turn into a dark alley and your waylaid characters need to be reloaded back at the inn. But, your map remains, and you know now that you should avoid that particular dark alley. There’s a sense of persistence that goes beyond the lifetime of your party members.

Then a funny thing happens….

At some point, everything seems to gel. You get some multi-target spells on your Sorcerer. You have some reasonably complete maps with the secret areas sussed out. You know which types of monsters to hit hard and fast. Suddenly, you find yourself surviving fights you’re sure you should have died in. You’re making complete maps with only one party instead of five. You’ve stumbled across some strange and wonderful exceptions, as the Rampant Coyote wrote in his blog post above.

In short, you’ve gained some level of mastery of the game.

Now, you’re not quite “a master”, but you definitely have a feeling of control that you didn’t before. Not to say that it’s all sunshine and roses, because you’ll still get your ass kicked when you try to disrupt the dragon convention or try to head down into a deep dungeon you teleported to from an unknown portal. But, you feel a lot more confident.

The power of contrast

I really don’t want to turn this into a “ZOMG OLD-SKOOL >>>>> *” rant, but I think it’s interesting to take a look at what the design accomplished in such an early game. One lesson here is that the brutal start helps make hitting the “mastery point” all the more apparent. As I’ve written before, risk enhances the fun you can have in a game.

It’s also interesting to contrast the tough beginning of the game with the modern trend of making the game super-easy at the beginning. You can certainly argue (as many designers do) that it’s better to have merely the perception of risk so that players feel more clever avoiding the problems altogether without any real risk of failure. But, there’s a fine line between making apparent risk that’s easy to conquer and making a situation that’s overly easy with no real risk. Balancing that is tough, like many other areas of a game, since different players have different levels of skill overall.

I think this is perhaps the root explanation for why people feel the games are “dumbed down” these days. It’s not that games are necessarily easier, but that there’s less contrast between when you’re a new soul wandering the lands and when you feel that you hit the “mastery” point. If the game has always made you feel that you’re able to conquer any challenge, then the point where you internally recognize that threshold has been crossed. I suspect that it’s not simply the case that the curmudgeons want masochistic pain-grinds, but that getting past that initial difficult part is an important aspect of what they enjoy about games and what makes them feel like a master later on.

What do you think? Are you absolutely turned off by games that are “too hard” at the beginning? Do you like a good challenge to whet your appetite? Or do you have some more nuanced point of view to share?







28 Comments »

  1. I want games to be hard. However, what’s important is that the game shows you or at least allows you to see WHY you failed early on and how you can improve.

    The fun is in the internal progression, the realization of mastery as you put it. So, hard is good, when it’s a hard you can learn to best. Hard is bad when it’s just plain unfortunate RNG+bad odds.

    The creature that hits players with, say, 20 health for 1-100 damage with no way to avoid it? Bad hard.

    However, if the players have the potential to, say, keep it at range, or do something to mitigate that damage? That’s good hard. Better if the game has conveyed that information somewhere, and best if it’s done in a roundabout way; say, an NPC discussing how his friend nearly died to said creatures attack, but for .

    I always prefer that these sorts of educational things be things you discover, not things that are forced on you. Give the character – the player, actually – motivation to actually pay attention to what goes on around them in the game.

    Comment by Derrick — 29 January, 2011 @ 1:35 AM

  2. The bit about maps was fun to me. I argued not so long ago somewhere, under some circumstances I can’t remember, that navigation has pretty much been lost as a gameplay element. As you know, I recently started playing a bit of LotRO since it became free to play, and one thing I immediately noticed is that just about every quest area is marked on the map, and even when you’re not looking at the map, the minimap directs you to the nearest quest area.

    With so much convenience, navigation as a gameplay element is all but gone, and covering any amount of distance is little more than a method for pacing players’ consumption of content somewhat.

    I’m not arguing that this is inherently good or bad, mind you. I, for one, prefer to have navigation as a meaningful gameplay element.

    Oh, now I remember what it was about, it was about usability in games… the author argued that games have become ever more usable, and I think even brought up maps as an example. It’s true, of course: drawing your own maps is much harder than having them drawn for you, and having targets clearly marked is even easier. But the game also loses something at the same time… I think Ultima Underworld pretty much struck the best balance: the automapping as implemented there took away the tedium of drawing maps, but none of the navigation requirements.

    Comment by unwesen — 29 January, 2011 @ 3:23 AM

  3. My issue with games like WoW isn’t that they hold your hand in the beginning, it’s that they seem to never want to let go. In fact I often find myself fighting against the game to make it more challenging.

    Comment by Jason — 29 January, 2011 @ 6:07 AM

  4. I want games to be hard. However, what’s important is that the game shows you or at least allows you to see WHY you failed early on and how you can improve.

    Derrick nailed it. I love me a good hard game, but if it’s hard without being educational then the design is a failure.

    Demon’s Souls is the best modern example of this that I can think of, although the Etrian Odyssey series on the DS is a close second. (And, incidentally, Etrian Odyssey uses one entire screen to allow the player to graph out the map as they explore it – much like you describe).

    Comment by Andrew — 29 January, 2011 @ 9:11 AM

  5. All these considerations made it tough to make a viable ‘old school yet modern’ game with a strong reminiscence of MMI (my main inspiration) but still playable by today’s standards. Automapping & save anywhere turned out being essential additions. People like yourself that enjoy graph mapping are becoming very, very rare :)

    Comment by Charles — 29 January, 2011 @ 9:39 AM

  6. I remember Might and Magic II being a revelation in the fact that I didn’t have to hand record maps. I love the challenge of some older games, but not having the automap is not one thing I wanted to do without once I had it.

    Comment by Paul — 29 January, 2011 @ 9:56 AM

  7. here is an excerpt from the game design document i’ve been working on for the past 3-ish years… it’s well over 150 pages and includes pics and spreadsheets and stuff, but i thought this idea i had a few years ago would fit well in this discussion of how hard a game should be at the start… this is how i like my games… hard, but still entertaining and fun even when you die.

    ——–

    The newbie experience – i came up with this idea after reading a blog post somewhere about how easy a game is when you log in for the first time and how it’s almost impossible to die in the starter area… i’d like to change that.

    - basically the starter area should teach you all the basics, but it shouldn’t be oversimplified and trivially easy… here is what i propose for the very first quest you get automatically when you log in for the first time.

    after a cut-scene or whatnot you’re left standing in front of a big mean looking NPC that tells you that you suck and probably couldn’t even beat up a target dummy… so your first quest is to go over to the nearby target dummy and use a few attacks on it.
    - here is where it gets interesting… at first the game tutorial tells you to use a light attack on the dummy… after you’ve done that it tells you to use a heavy attack on the dummy… this heavy attack causes the dummy to fly backwards, then it comes back forward with such force that it kills you unless you BLOCK! (also note, at this point the tutorial has shown you a keyboard with all the bindings listed on them, so you should know there is a block button, but you haven’t been explicitly taught to use it yet.)
    - so.. basically if you’re smart and you block when the dummy comes flying back at you… you live and complete the quest… if you die, then you respawn back in front of the big mean NPC and a short cut-scene plays where the NPC makes fun of you and calls you a sissy and tells you to try again, this time explaining how to block.
    - this would not only make for a very comical and entertaining start to the game… but would also emphasize that this game WILL take some skill if you want to avoid spending most of your time in the dirt.

    - this type of comically brutal bashing of you as a newbie should continue throughout the whole tutorial… so basically, if you screw up, you die and get made fun of… then get told how to do it the right way, and try it again.

    - i think this type of newbie experience would be absolutely hilarious… and would be much better at teaching new players how to play, than the usual MMO formula… which is basically to make you invincible for the first few levels… and then only slightly less invincible for the rest.

    —–

    how do you think something like this would be received in a new mmo?

    Comment by Logan — 29 January, 2011 @ 1:27 PM

  8. Anyone wanting to give this a try should go to Virtual Apple 2, where you can run it in an emulator in a web browser.

    Comment by Tim — 29 January, 2011 @ 1:45 PM

  9. I like a game where, at the beginning, I get the sense that there are deep mysteries for me to explore and much power for me to attain by learning to play the game well.

    Easy games make this kind of feeling hard to get. I would prefer being thrown into a relatively complex world with some general hints instead of being walked through an idiot-level tutorial. I know i’m not with the majority on this, though.

    Comment by evizaer — 29 January, 2011 @ 7:13 PM

  10. There’s hard, and then there’s random. To be jumped by a mob of monsters just outside the inn that wipes the party when you haven’t even made it to the blacksmith to buy new weapons? That’s just cruel.

    The graphical style (EGA) doesn’t bother me that much, though I find it about impossible to navigate with the “every wall the same” visual style. I get completely lost in these kinds of games. I can do a 180 in a featureless hall and get completely and utterly lost even with my map. You never get the “Ah the big tree by the rock, now I know where I am” moments.

    I am wondering just how much it would “break” the game to have it show a compass, or your current coordinates, or even make a map for you. Not that I’m an anti-mapite, just that the visual style renders the map marginally useful for me.

    You’re right though that the only way you’ll succeed in a game like this is by being incredibly cautious and moving a few steps at a time. Otherwise you find yourself dead, lost, or dead and lost.

    PS
    Do torches actually work? I tried a “Use” on one, and it turned it into I believe a “worthless object” in my inventory.

    Comment by Tim — 29 January, 2011 @ 8:22 PM

  11. Mastery only matters to me if it’s actually me mastering the game, not the RNG being aberrantly nice. A good feedback loop and minimization of stupid gotcha moments goes a long way to that end.

    Comment by Tesh — 29 January, 2011 @ 10:41 PM

  12. I’ll agree with the general assessment that being screwed over by the random number generator sucks. Getting good feedback is good, but I think a lot of what old-school RPG fans like is reviewing a battle like a game film. “Oh, I decided to cast heal instead of bless the first round, so my fighters couldn’t hit and the monsters just kept doing more damage than I could heal.” Having the game show that to me generally means that the game intends for me to play a specific way. As Jason points out above, you shouldn’t have to fight the game to be allowed to go do something harder.

    However, I will say that as a developer it can be hard to tame the random number generator. Especially in early games with very limited resources adding exceptions to something like monsters not attacking in inns might actually be rather tough. I think that some aspects of games getting easier is natural as we can do things like set “no monster attack” flags in areas, or have a relatively simple check to make sure you don’t get jumped before you can go buy equipment.

    One interesting thing is how M&M1 actually has a rather gentle penalty for death. In Wizardry, a party wipe meant that you would have to either delete those characters or create new ones to go retrieve the bodies. Losing a high level party deep in the dungeon (and not restoring the save file) could be a tremendous blow. In M&M1, you just start back in the last inn you visited.

    Andrew wrote:
    (And, incidentally, Etrian Odyssey uses one entire screen to allow the player to graph out the map as they explore it – much like you describe).

    Yeah, I’ve had my eye on those games for a while. The “draw your own map” thing sounds interesting. As long as your map doesn’t get wiped when you “die”.

    Logan wrote:
    how do you think something like this would be received in a new mmo?

    Honestly? Probably not too well. I think it would be interesting to set the tone of a game with that type of setup to indicate that the game won’t hold your hand through the whole thing. But, I suspect it’d be a small niche of players who cared to stick with it. That’s not necessarily a reason to not go with it, but just something to be aware of.

    evizaer wrote:
    I like a game where, at the beginning, I get the sense that there are deep mysteries for me to explore and much power for me to attain by learning to play the game well.

    Agreed. I think that’s part of that feeling of mastery I talked about, where there needs to be something that seems worth mastering. If the game makes it seem like you’re always the master, then you don’t get that feeling.

    Tim wrote:
    PS Do torches actually work? I tried a “Use” on one, and it turned it into I believe a “worthless object” in my inventory.

    Magic items in M&M1 work a bit oddly. They basically mimic casting a spell, and become worthless when they run out of charges. The torch essentially casts the light spell, so if you’re in a situation where you can’t cast the light spell (like an anti-magic area), then you can’t use the torch. The light effect only shows up if you wander into someplace dark. You can see if you have the light spell active by hitting (P)rotect.

    Comment by Psychochild — 30 January, 2011 @ 12:48 AM

  13. Miscellanious Indie Stories…

    [...] Psychochild’s Blog: Mastery of Might & Magic – Twenty-Five years old, and still going strong in the hearts of fans. [...]

    Pingback by The Rampant Coyote — 30 January, 2011 @ 8:50 AM

  14. “There’s hard, and then there’s random. To be jumped by a mob of monsters just outside the inn that wipes the party when you haven’t even made it to the blacksmith to buy new weapons? That’s just cruel.”
    Have to agree with Tim here.

    Personally, I’ve found M&M to be on the verge of cruel in this respect, though I must admit I haven’t played them in ages, so don’t recall details. I know I enjoyed the Wizardry series, Eye of the Beholder, Ultima Underworld, etc. and did not find them cruelly hard, though definitely challenging at times.

    Eh, would have to play them all again some time :)

    Comment by unwesen — 30 January, 2011 @ 12:05 PM

  15. One of the (unspoken) reasons I beat the war drums on the distinction between Death and unconsciousness back when I was blogging was to help enable a midpoint in this concept of “hard game” vs. “discouraging game”. I believed it would enable a more challenging start, with lots of losses, without having players resort to a “Horatio the XXIV” naming convention (i.e. to accommodate those who invest emotionally in their characters somewhat). Railing against the typical XP paradigm was part of that too… losing can teach at least as much as winning, but not in the typical MMO.

    I like a challenge, but I don’t like hitting walls. It’s a game… I’ll save incessantly beating my head on things for RL challenges. A game that recognizes the difference and offers alternatives at some point is going to retain my interest longer. Obviously not an easy situation to detect, tho.

    I’ll also chime in with the railing against randomness. I’d say CRPGs get less leeway than pen-and-paper RPGs in that respect, in part because there is no illusion of control/agency in the random factor. As a pen-and-paper GM with 30 years of experience under my belt, I can testify to how much it can matter _who_ rolls the dice. The end result is just as random (barring loaded dice), but the resulting player reactions can be as different as night and day.

    -=-

    @Logan: I’m with Psychochild. Once or twice with the “RTFM, Stupid” might fly with me personally, but it would get annoying very quickly, and I know more than a few people that would walk away and never look back upon encountering such a design element. You mention it would be comical (and it would, as an observer)… my take: no one enjoys being laughed _at_, and in the absence of some very careful presentation and framing, this sounds like it would come across as you the designer laughing at the “noobs”… not likely to endear you or your game to your customers.

    Having a “block” hotkey listed amongst a probable 2-3 dozen other hotkeys is a pretty subtle cue, and it’s a pretty large leap from there to “block NOW or DIE”, IMO. Are you visualizing a noticeable rocking back and forth even with the light attack on the target dummy, as an additional clue that a heavier hit might have an unfortunate consequence? Or, perhaps the player can see some NPC trainees getting bowled over on the backswing in the background as the drill sargeant NPC initially berates the PC? How about instead of the character dying, they are given a “bloody nose”, still enabling the NPC insults and explanation without the added “Oops, you _died_” making it look more like a twist of the knife?

    Comment by DamianoV — 31 January, 2011 @ 4:13 AM

  16. RNG and p&p/crpg:

    As a pen and paper DM/GM, I made extensive use of screens. Players rarely saw my dice rolls, for a very solid important reason: I would absolutely allow bad things to happen to them – particularly if they deserved it, but I would steer events in combats or what not fairly dynamically to prevent game-wrecking random “instagibs”, which are a real hazard particularly for low level players.

    Not that I’d protect them unnecessarily! Sometimes, I’d make results worse than they otherwise would have been for dramatic impact a fight may otherwise have been lacking if it seemed appropriate.

    CRPG’s should do this too; but it’s a fine balancing act. It’s critical that the players never know – or even suspect – that the results are not random. But it’s necessary for good storytelling, which is what being a GM is all about.

    There is often this slavish adherence in game design to random numbers needing to always be “honestly” random, and that’s just plain silly.

    Comment by Derrick — 31 January, 2011 @ 6:21 AM

  17. Thanks for the feedback!

    i guess you’d have to understand a lot more about the game in order to evaluate the tutorial area… the most important thing to consider is this would be an action MMO (think a multiplayer version of GoW or DMC).. where actively blocking/dodging/parrying is very important… so i don’t think it’s too much to stress this importance at the start of the game.

    the bloody nose idea is good… or maybe just a stun/knockdown… but really dying wouldn’t be much worse… there wouldn’t be any penalty like durability loss or rez sickness (not this early in the game anyway) and you’d basically be rezzed by the drill sargent npc immediately after dying.. and there would be a very short, unskippable cutscene explaining what happened… and yes there would be a very obvious visual swaying to the dummy and other trainees around whacking on the dummies and getting knocked out.

    i think it COULD probably alienate some players, but those aren’t the players i’m interested in (at least not at first)… those players will likely come back later on… the key to this kind of game is to get the more hardcore into it and then let them spread the word… it would be kind of exclusive in that only the hardcore would play it at first, but then others would want in on that exclusivity… everyone likes something that’s rare and makes them feel exclusive and special, and even more so when they’re told by “hardcore” players that they can’t handle it…. at least that’s how our society as a whole functions (the younger generations at least).. and i’m sure there’s a large set of gamers that have the same feelings.

    thanks for the comments!

    Comment by Logan — 31 January, 2011 @ 7:48 AM

  18. Logan wrote:
    but really dying wouldn’t be much worse…

    I think it’s perceived as worse if you call it “death”. Look at “death” in WoW, for example, where old-school players and designers thought the penalty was laughably insignificant, but where many people thought even a few minute run back to your corpse was onerous. “Death” means that this is the worst penalty you’ll have to endure in the game. So, I think the real message here for your tutorial is don’t inflict the worst penalty on the player for failing; but, a penalty is fine for what you want to do.

    Hope that helps.

    Comment by Psychochild — 31 January, 2011 @ 12:28 PM

  19. RE: Random number generators.

    The thing is, non-computer games are full of random as well, but people don’t mind. And that’s because it’s in the form of dice and spinners and the like. The player feels like they have some control over the randomness. Having your opponent roll a 20 and crit you creates cries of, “You lucky bastard!” Having the computer’s random number generator come up with a 20 (or the equivalent) creates cries of, “Stupid random number generators.”

    Giving the player literal virtual dice to click on I think lets them at least feel more in control. Actually showing the game rolling the dice could also make the game feel less random. It’s technically no different than an instant random number generator result, but it adds a lot more excitement. However it only works for turn based styles of play.

    Working on Day of Defeat and the “randomness” of the shot cone pattern (bullet spread) was an endless point of pain to players. “Pwned by a n00b because of a random number generator!” and “Why do I even bother to aim, it’s all random” were typical comments from the more hardcore players. Actually it ended up being that the shot pattern WAS random, and not weighted towards the middle of the shot cone like a real gun would be. See http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/CShotManipulator for some analysis, etc.

    Comment by Tim — 31 January, 2011 @ 3:21 PM

  20. @Tim, there’s random and there’s random.

    Random chance of success, influenced by e.g. your skill level, is acceptable random. For one thing, you know in advance what your chances are. For another, you know what to do to improve them. Lastly, the random element is truly random, and not somone else not paying attention.

    Random of the type criticized here is where there appears to be no logic between where you are in terms of your abilities/location, and the difficulty of your encounters. That seems random, but really isn’t; it’s odd design (possibly bad, which is what the people complaining here think).

    Note that the above *could* be true randomness, but most likely isn’t: in true randomness, it’s perfectly normal to find what appears to be patterns (this area is crawling with high-level mobs!). They’re not patterns in a mathematical sense, though, just random correlations that our brain picks up as a pattern. Humans are amazing at finding patterns where there aren’t (cargo cults, to use a popular example).

    In all likelihood, though, it’s odd design. Even if the only odd thing here is that the designer chose a truly random mob distribution, rather than one designed to be random within parameters that you *should* be able to master, based on your progress through the game.

    Comment by unwesen — 1 February, 2011 @ 10:37 AM

  21. I’ve written about “bounded chaos” before; the idea that a bit of variety is a Good Thing, but too much unpredictability is a Bad Thing. It seems to me that randomness needs to be tempered by catering to reasonable player expectations. Of course, everyone has their own tolerance level for surprise, too, so player controls over some degree of that variability may well be a useful tool.

    Comment by Tesh — 1 February, 2011 @ 1:01 PM

  22. Well, random and statistics might be another way to put it. Seeing the random number being generated as well as knowing the statistics behind what will happen based on that number helps a lot with making it acceptable. If each encounter has a 1 in 20 chance of being a really tough monster, I’m more likely to accept it when I know how the choosing works, and that getting a 20 was a really lucky thing.

    For example, when I got attacked just outside the inn playing Might & Magic, it seemed very random. If I’d been in a paper & pencil game of Dungeons and Dragons, and the GM had rolled a 20 which meant a tough monster, I’d just consider myself unlucky and accept the fact.

    Just brainstorming a design idea, imagine each time you moved in M&M, you saw a little tumbling dice. If it came up on a 1, the game would flash “ENCOUNTER!” on the screen. Then, each time I moved I’d watch that dice roll, and if I did get attacked I’d feel, “Oh well of course there’s a monster – the game rolled a 1!” And then there could be a second “dice roll” for what kind of monster. And if the game “rolled” a 6 (meaning really tough monster), I’d feel, “Oh well of course it’s a hard monster – the game rolled a 6!”

    I know the idea of lucky and unlucky dice rolls is totally psychological and it’s all just a random number generator, but that “luck” feel is a big thing in people’s minds. It’s’ far easier to accept something that you feel like you have control over (even if you have none), than something you feel you have no control over.

    Comment by Tim — 1 February, 2011 @ 1:03 PM

  23. Couldn’t help but link to this :)

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/12/29/

    Comment by Tim — 7 February, 2011 @ 2:43 PM

  24. They don’t do them like this anymore. I would love to play MM6 and 7 if the graphics wouldn’t hurt my eyes. If they would remake those games with updated graphics (like Lucas Arts remade the Monkey Island series) I’m sure they would sell well. The “old ones” would get to play again the game they love, while the new younger generations will experience ye olde gameplay.

    Comment by Mike — 25 March, 2011 @ 12:17 PM

  25. Mike wrote:
    If they would remake those games with updated graphics (like Lucas Arts remade the Monkey Island series) I’m sure they would sell well.

    Unlikely. Those games were made by New World Computing when they were owned by 3DO. After 3DO went bankrupt, the Might & Magic IP was sold to Ubisoft. It looks like Ubi is just exploiting the Heroes games, and not the RPGs. Unfortunate, really. If a remake is going to be done it’ll have to be by a fan who can avoid the wrath of lawyers. ;)

    Comment by Psychochild — 25 March, 2011 @ 9:31 PM

  26. “It’s not that games are necessarily easier, but that there’s less contrast between when you’re a new soul wandering the lands and when you feel that you hit the “mastery” point.”

    I agree it’s the contrast that matters – because that’s what progression is – contrast, and it’s easier to see the contrast between starting sucky and finishing uber than it is between starting uber and finishing uber.

    The games are easier as well though because they have to be for reasons of logic. If you’re aiming at wow scale subs then you need to design for the largest possible playerbase which means designing to the lowest common denominator in a bunch of categories e.g. hardware spec and difficulty level. There will be a cut-off where if you make it any easier (or low-spec) you’ll start to lose more people at the opposite end of whatever spectrum you’re designing for than you gain at the bottom but games aimed at including the average ten year old have to have a lower level of base difficulty than games aimed at the average engineering undergraduate. It has to be that way if you’re aiming for max subs.

    The question then is if there’s anything you can do to let the player vary the base difficulty. Some games do this already with instanced hard modes etc but so far the difficulty of the base game is pretty much set.

    One way in a skills based game or class based where the player chooses skills each level is you could have a varying number of start skills e.g. masochist mode might start with one skill, hard mode two etc down to beginner with five. Players on the beginner mode would always have a four skill advantage on players on masochist. Actually it wouldn’t even need to be like that. It could be a standard class system and the easier modes got bonus skills/buffs. So the base levelling difficulty is hard but players on beginner mode get a health buff and damage buff etc. This would be funny for ultra-competitive min-maxers especially if the buff was visible say in the form of a cute little fairy that followed them and buffed and healed.

    The thing is even in the easiest of games there will still be a massive learning curve for those people at the margin of being able to play the game. WoW might seem like a learning cliff to the average ten year old with a huge sense of mastery at certain points whereas the average engineering undergraduate might not notice there’s a slope at all unless they do deliberately stupid stuff like try and level just using the auto-attack (very dull btw).

    Economically it makes sense to go for lowest common denominator if you’re aiming at creating a maximum total players game however i think it should be possible to design a game that both ten year olds and people who want the game to be actively trying to kill them (combined with learnable avoidance strategies) can play at the same time, if not in the same group.

    (This would also increase the replayability if your character’s mode was public. The ten year old plays through to max on beginner mode, learning the game well in the process, reincarnates with the same name but at a higher difficulty, now possible because of game experience, and plays through again just so their name isn’t pink.)

    Comment by bloob — 30 October, 2011 @ 12:15 PM

  27. bloob wrote:
    …whereas the average engineering undergraduate might not notice there’s a slope at all unless they do deliberately stupid stuff like try and level just using the auto-attack (very dull btw).

    Welcome, fellow explorer. :)

    In general, I agree with your point: it’s hard to make a game that includes everyone. Many games have tried, and almost none have worked out. Even WoW is showing the cracks of trying to appeal to too many different groups. Eventually your scrubs become veterans and gets bored with the slow pace. But, you have to keep that pace to keep the game accessible for the new blood that joins your game. A difficult balance.

    Comment by Psychochild — 5 November, 2011 @ 11:38 PM

  28. Delving into Grimrock

    [...] or just the equipment curve, I'm not sure. But, it does go with that old-school feeling of mastering a game after a brutal [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 21 September, 2012 @ 5:04 PM

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