(Reposted from Creative Sphere Games, an old blog run by the Alembic):
I understand and respect gaming masochism. But, I think that changing mechanics to be more reasonable and less punishing is an improvement, not a detriment, to games in general. Many of us Original Gamers pine for the days of D&D-based yore when games were seemingly intended to break us down into sobbing masses created by an uncaring necromancer of pain and suffering, or at least didn’t try to avoid it. Overcoming all of the obstacles (I CHOOSE NOT TO SHOOT HER WITH THE SILVER ARROW… NOOOOO) was a big part of what gaming (I HAVE 1 LIFE!?), and especially PC gaming (HOW DO I LOAD MOUSE DRIVERS?), were about. But, I feel we’re lucky to now be in an age where those ideals (intended or not) are giving way to actual fun, actual challenge, and not fabricating it through high-reach requirements (I NEED A FAIRY MONK WITH A MAGIC LOCKPICK?).
What we’ve always been trying to do, what WoW has always been about (and to which much of its success is due) is to make an accessible MMO. Anyone that looks back at the game at launch and wishes it was as challenging now as it was then is not aware of the painstaking effort put into making this game accessible as compared to its predecessors. Since release we’ve refined that intent, eventually evolving the very few masochistic designs WoW actually ever started with, but ideally still offering those same prestige goals that give that feeling of achieving something great if you’re able to pull it off. We’ve made a lot of progress toward striking that balance and continuing to evolve the game, but it’s not something we’re ever likely to perfect, and we’ll be constantly working to hit that elusive goal. Hopefully it’s to the benefit of everyone playing and enjoying the game, and they’ll continue to enjoy the journey that a living, breathing, persistent universe will take us on.
Gaming masochism? Easy mechanics? Original Gamers? Bullshit; no one pines for the days of yore to be broken down into nothingness at the mere trembling sight of yet another insurmountable challenge with which you take umbrage, while Gygaxisaurus’s jowls quiver with laughter. What they pine for is accomplishments that matter. To intimate otherwise is to take a steroid-free Canseco-esque swing or fire a magic missile into the darkness. The above written passage is a juvenile means to answer a fundamental question about reward development and, more fundamentally, player choice.
Some people like pain and the feel of encountering odds so great that their only means of success is through their stellar play, perfect timing, grace of fingers, or mere random luck. These encounters are a tool in the narrative, rather than the narrative itself. More a chance to scare a player to hell and back. Think on it and you can envision the scene right now: “Hey, guys, I think… OH BY THE GRACES OF THE CREATOR’S MINISKIRT! It’s a dragon of majesty! We’re screwed!” For something a touch more dramatic: think of Luke’s first fight with Vader in which he was assuredly going to lose more than his hand. It is obvious that Bashiok and the larger Blizzard story/encounter design team seem to not understand that sometimes characters are overmatched and should have the opinion of fleeing. Apparently, in WotLK they decided they failed so miserably, having turned Arthas into a caricature of a real villain, at this that the thought of meaningful interaction with the world and putting the characters in their place means nothing to them. They forget one of the greatest concepts of storytelling: the failure of Good to have the ability, temerity, or cohesion to defeat evil. Yet that is neither here, nor there really as it truly does not appear to relate to the above written passage, except through a mechanically based discussion of storytelling.
In sum, the above reeks of the arrogance of being the 800 pound gorilla in the chamber: “We’re leading the charge, guys, at making this game more accessible, more addictive, by being the only ones that offer actual challenge and fun.” The challenge is not mental. There is no thought, or very little decision making, that need go into this, it seems. Pick a class, find a spec, take a set of items from the menu, and move, twitch press keys in the same order, don’t stand in fire, and then profit. Broken down into this format, it is easily to become infatuated with the ease: “I don’t really need to improvise; just learn the dance, and I’m fine!” The result of all this is simple: your choice doesn’t matter.
Classes are an attractive option as they are convention of the oldest of RPGs; however, when classes are not delineated and offered specific challenges, at least some of the time, there is no impact whatsoever that they have within the game. Classes have specific purviews in which they perform; e.g: a rogue backstabs and picks locks, a paladin crusades against evil and smites it, and a mage lobs some spells. They have to fit into the niche for which they were created, and for players to demonstrate any agency with their choice of class, they must be allowed to perform some of the intrinsic aspects. In the end, this is why classes, regardless of medium, are a relic of a decaying formula. Without locks to pick, why ever play a rogue? Without solid AE mechanics, why ever tank as a warrior? Growing from there, this problem is only compounded by the community: “well, on the KT fight, it’s best to take on 1 melee on 10 man because of the risk of freezing the tank and then getting a healer one-shot.” It’s effectively a wash. Your choice, your decisions, and your thinking is taken away by both the most unforgiving mechanics of the game: the designers who are unwilling to meaningfully innovate the game further and the community at large who is unwilling to recognize anything after the elite consensus has been formed.
Mechanics should not even feel noticeable by the player while they are playing their character. The rules, the maths, the knowledge used to create and provide the challenges offered should be inclusive, granted, but the player’s decisions about their character’s style and abilities should inform their decisions to a far higher level than I can do X because I am class Y. Why can’t a character that uses spells be able to pick a lock? Why are Paladins only concerned with smiting evil; hell, for that matter, why do we always have the trope of them being Good?
In the end, Blizzard seems to do what they do best: allow their lead designers stroke their virtual genitals at being the “best in the biz, because they’re the biggest.” Meanwhile, I believe they entirely miss the whole point: the balance between feeling a meaningful achievement versus just constantly going to a gussied up loot vending machine is up to you, the player.