10 December, 2006
The main point of the article can be summed up by the quote, “‘Old school’ adventures didn’t expect the party to ‘clear out the level.’” The lamentation is that parties expect to go through and kick down every door and slay every monster. That seems to fly in the face of what makes RPGs so cool to a lot of people: the opportunity to live in the world setting. Computer RPGs (including online RPGs) seem to be the worst offenders in this case. The article points out that while you could probably figure out the outcome of a simple battle in a paper RPG given statistical die rolls, MMORPG players have this down to a science. The DPS rating is right there on the sword, after all! It’s all about the wholesale mathematical slaughter of walking bags of xp.
So, I figured I’d throw this challenge out to the smart people that read my blog. Go read the article, then respond here or there. Consider, what can we do to get people not to brute force games? My thoughts after the break.
The primary problem, in my opinion, is that players are only doing what we reward them for doing. In my response to the post, I said:
Well, it’s a question of what is rewarded in the game. We have established conventions for handling combat and the defeat of enemies, so it’s really easy to have the game reward you for killing masses of enemies. It’s not a surprise that people go through and murder everything systematically when that’s the best way to get ahead.
So, I think the first obvious thing is to stop rewarding people for brute-forcing things. If they only way they’ll advance levels (like in original D&D and most computer/online RPGs), then it should be small surprise that wholesale slaughter is the order of the day. It makes no sense to leave behind potential XP, especially in a half-empty dungeon where you can potentially make a safe retreat. I also mention that the locked door in the dungeon might have the item that makes the last fight easier, or perhaps even possible depending on the scenario. Miss that Sword of Undead Slaying +5 or that Anti-Magic Wand and that Lich at the end of the dungeon is going to eat you alive. (Well, eat you undead, maybe.)
Note that this isn’t just a class vs. skill-based system argument, either. Use-based systems often encourage brute-force techniques: sitting in a corner casting the same simple spell over and over again, or perhaps having your assassin-type character skipping through meadows picking flowers in order to increase vital skills, or perhaps performing genocide on helpless woodland creatures to increase your weapon skill.
So, one thing to do is start rewarding the completion of a quest instead of simply rewarding the slaughter of opponents. You’ll notice that most games have started moving toward rewarding players with considerable experience for completing quests. But, most of these quests still require killing masses of enemies, and that still rewards experience. You also have the problem that this is prone to exploitation. If you reward all the experience based on quest completion, then someone who figures out a quick way to finish the quest can get easy experience. (“Oh, crap, did you know players could hop over that wall and avoid 90% of the zone?”)
But, I also think that part of this issue is unavoidable. Fantasy tropes make it so that slaughtering orcs wholesale is the way to go. As I said in my response to the original post, “Killing a few orcs and leaving the bodies around to scare off other orc raiders isn’t as “cool” as going to the orc camp and killing every single one of them….” There’s the expectation that you will go in and kill them all. (Of course, someone else replied that even Conan used his wits to get around certain obstacles instead of just relying on his sword and his brawn.)
I think that the brute-force aspect is also part of the game. As Raph said in his book, people want to optimize the experience. People will figure out the reward, and find the most consistent way to get that reward. If that requires brute force, then that’s what the player will apply. Trying to frustrate the player by taking away the brute-force solution doesn’t seem to be advisable because that might, er, frustrate the player? Usually not the recipe for success.
So, what are your thoughts? Is brute-force simply a fact of computer/online RPGs? Or, is there something that we as designers can do in order to encourage the player to not brute-force the game?