NBI Talkback, a Late Entry on Armchair Game Design
Before we start, let me remind all of you that this is part of the excellent New Bloggers Initiative Talk Back Challenge. To see others’ responses, check here.
Let me be frank. I know nothing about the practical aspects of game design. I have no doubt that there are subtle meanings to every tiny decision that is made, similar to a poet’s word choice. So I want to go into this as honest and direct as possible: these are things I like, but their implementation may or may not be realistic at all.
First, there needs to be no barriers to immediate grouping. If you want to play alone, sure, flip a switch and prevent it for your character, but everyone else should be able to simply move near another player and work to achieve the same goal and immediately be grouped. Of course, Guild Wars 2 has already done this, and it does create a more silent community, but for the specific aspect of open-world play, I think ease of grouping trumps the need to communicate with strangers.
To help increase that communication and group spirit, though, I think games need to have a more hostile environment. The Secret World didn’t succeed nearly as much as it should have, and I largely believe this was one of the major causes. It was hard. It strongly favored grouping up over soloing. The old MMOs certainly had this; I’ve heard many stories about the peril of the EQ world, and I remember vanilla WoW being challenging at times to solo. There’s no good design reason to move away from this, only a business and financial one.
To help along both of these issues, we need greater ease of communication. I don’t know why we don’t see VOIP built into games. DayZ did this, and it worked like a charm. Design the game for “local” VOIP, so that only people grouped up or within a certain range can communicate. That would go a long way to helping cooperation.
Another good aspect of Guild Wars 2 were the more approachable and available “epic” events. Not only do they have the evolving story line that allows lower level folks to be “leveled up” to the appropriate level of the content, but they also had the open-world boss events. Rift did this before GW2, of course, but while it was fun at first, there wasn’t enough diversity to really keep it going. That will be a limitation in any game, of course, but, again, I’m not talking about practical things; I’m talking about ideal ones.
Additionally, the design needs to make sure it doesn’t inadvertently pit players against their supposed teammates. This is best accomplished by adding in more personal responsibility rather than pure “roles.” Here, I don’t really like GW2′s model; I felt it was too chaotic and zerg-like. Granted, I only did one dungeon, but it was so un-enjoyable, I never wanted to do another. Something in between GW2′s “cover only your own butt for the most part” model and the holy role trinity I think would set a good pace between teamwork and team conflict because, yet again, that DPSer stood in the fire.
Along those same lines, I’d like to start seeing a move away from pure “classes.” The Secret World’s ability wheel I thought was ingenious. You could choose your specializations, change them if you want, experiment with others, dip into a passive from over here, and really just play and experiment with what you wanted. I really enjoyed that, and when I still occasionally return, part of the reason is that I enjoy playing a little differently without having to roll 11 different alts.
Those are all the mechanical design ideas I really like, but there’s one idea, one experience that trumps all of these. The problem, of course, is that it’s not necessarily a mechanical consideration; it’s a holistic design decision.
There are games that we’ve enjoyed, that we played straight through, wrote about a bit, and put down, never to be thought about or talked about again. There are co-op games that we play with our buddies, grind our way through, and finish, joking about this or that, but ready to move on to something new. Then there are the games that stick, that create a spot in our collective gamer memory and remain there. This often occurs because of the stories we, the players, create – on purpose or by accident – within the game world.
My buddy and I only played DayZ a few months, but we still talk about some of the experiences we had in that game, for good or (mostly) bad. WoW and other MMOs, too, have created a generation of gamers who can talk about the funny situations, close kills, and, of course, guild drama (again, for good or (mostly) bad).
The ability to create a space open enough for players to create shared experiences I think is crucial for the longevity of a game. I don’t mean the actual long-term play, but the longevity of its legacy. Those shared experiences are what create a communal culture, and that can’t be accomplished by the same-old-same-old games that keep getting cranked out as part of the franchise schedule.
So that, above all else, is my arm-chair game design: Create worlds where people can share experiences so that the engagement moves beyond the game’s borders and into the communal conversations about the game.
That’s what makes greatness.
Stubborn (and nostalgic)