This is a spectacularly good post by Ixobelle, to which I will add only one thing.

A book I’m reading discusses the biology of the brain’s sensation of joy. It presents evidence that — like the joyful release at the end of a good joke, or a mystery novel — the brain requires suspense, even a bit of fear, in order to experience the release of joy. The formula is something like “familiar experience + unexpected suspense + overcoming challenge = joy.”

It’s why I enjoy unpredictable fights in World of Warcraft — including the new Faction Champions fight, one of my favorites — more than any other content.

Anyhow:  Ixobelle: Pattern Recognition in Humans (…with applications in MMOs).


Gamers, this is not your enemy.Gamers, especially veteran players, often express exasperation at new or casual players’ difficulty accommodating some basic gaming conventions.

The classic example is mouse turning, as opposed to using the keyboard. It’s self-evident to us that mouse turning is a superior way of gaming: turn speed is faster, and you’re free to use your left hand for hotkeyed abilities rather than for turning / movement.

Personally, I think designers are being unfair to new gamers.

People who are not hardcore gamers come to games with a pretty sizable pre-existing set of skills at computer use. These skills are, unfortunately, largely of no use in games, given interface design choices that game designers make.

  • Most of the time nongamers spend at a computer, the most efficient arrangement of their hands is to use both hands on the keyboard and only occasionally use the mouse for the selection of objects (files, menu choices) in their desktop environment.
  • Movement within the desktop environment is most efficiently done not with a mouse, but with a keyboard.

People come to gaming with a set of skills that are the most efficient for what they do most on their computers: navigating documents and manipulating text. Cutting and pasting text, navigating documents, even most aspects of page layout and design, are all more efficiently executed with keyboard commands than with the mouse. It’s one of the reason users of text editors like vi and emacs scoff at “inefficient” word processing programs like Word: they rely too heavily on mouse use and not enough on efficient keyboard commands.

If a new gamer spends 5 percent of his time at the computer playing games, why should he bother learning an entirely new way of interacting with it that doesn’t build on the interface knowledge he has from the other 95 percent of the time he uses the computer?

What if, instead of designing games that went 180 degrees in the opposite direction from how people use their computers outside games, designers actually tried to make game interfaces work more like applications nongamers use? Would that make PC gaming more accessible? Couldn’t hurt.

I await the epoch-making first-person shooter that’s designed to be played with 2 hands on the keyboard. I’m not entirely joking. 😉

swtor trooper

I think Star Wars: The Old Republic may possibly be coming up with the best solution to a problem that has plagued a lot of MMOs before: How do you get players to tank and heal, when most of them just want to do damage?

(This is  a function of the Holy Trinity of tanking, healing and DPS, around which most crappy MMO AI and encounters are built.)

Take a look at the Sith Warrior, the latest class unveiled by Bioware in its glacially slow rollout of information about the game. Now, on background — all of the previous classes they’ve introduced have been pretty clearly damage-dealing classes: the Trooper, which uses heavy guns and armor; the Smuggler, a sort of stealth / ranged type; and the Bounty Hunter, a ranged damage dealer.

Now they’ve announced the Sith Warrior (note the two-word construction; strong indication there are other Sith playables planned), a heavy armor-wearing melee class with what appear to be tanking skills and limited crowd control abilities.

So let’s just put some lego pieces together here:

1) No healers or tanks had been announced previously.

2) No Jedi or Sith had been announced previously.

3) Four of eight classes as yet unrevealed.

4) Hints at more than one kind of class for Jedi or Sith.

To me, it seems like Bioware is using the “everyone will want to be a Jedi/Sith” problem to solve the “nobody wants to be a tank or healer” problem. Make Jedi and Sith tanks and healers. It’s quite ingenious, if that’s what they’re at.

Ever get sick in your game of choice?I’ve been quite under the weather for almost a week now with an ailment — kidney stones — that periodically lays me low. Unlke a lot of people with long-term ailments, mine comes and goes with little or no warning and has little effect on me when it’s not kicking my kidney into the ground.
I recognize that it kind of flies in the face of the empowerment fantasies that most of us seek in massive games, but are there any MMOs that really try to incorporate illness as a gameplay mechanism? I don’t mean something as simple as a buff/ debuff system. I mean something that actually takes illness and tries to address it through gameplay? Something along the lines of Psychonauts, maybe?

For something that is a part of so many peoples’ lives, massive titles really don’t, I think, have a history of looking at disability and illness as something other than a punishment for non-optimal gameplay.

"Love" will feature lush, impressionistic, procedurally generated worlds.

I’m a bit late on this one, but mad genius Eskil Steenberg has a post up on his blog that hits some of the topics I grumbled about in my post on wonder, mystery and MMOs.

Discoverable content is all well and good, he argues, but the content itself has to be fun in its own right, not just satisfying because it was challenging to ferret out. His trip to E3 led him to question whether game players really want surprise more than quality.

I loved scribblenauts, but I want to show it to my friends rather then play it for hours and hours. Getting Super Mario Galaxy 2 may feel like a disappointment in terms of innovation, but then again, getting more form one of the most innovative and best games we have seen in years clearly cant be bad. A lot of indie games are becoming one trick pony freak shows, screaming out “look at me I’m different!”, rather then providing gameplay that is fun to play rather then to discover. I don’t care that much that Nintendo keeps remaking the same games given that they are still so amazingly good.

Steenberg’s one-man-opus of an MMO — “Love” — is based on gorgeous, abstract, procedurally generated worlds. The very random nature of the content and terrain would seem to be one answer to the question of how to insert the wonder of discoverable content back into a genre where answers are as close as WoWhead or Allakhazam.

I’ll have more to say on procedural content and other solutions to the wonder problem in later posts, but I think Steenberg gives us a great jumping-off point. Hidden or difficult-to-find content is just frustrating if the content itself isn’t worth finding.

People are failing to grasp how revolutionary the change that Blizzard is putting in place with 3.2 instance timers for WoW is.

Read the text:

Unless you're fighting fascism, you're not in a hurry.

In the next patch a new feature will be become available that will give players the option to extend the instance lock, or instance ID of a raid or heroic dungeon.

It will be possible to extend an instance lock more than once and each extension will grant an additional amount of time equal to the duration of the original instance lock. In other words, you’d gain 24-hours if you chose to extend the instance lock of a heroic dungeon, whereas you’d gain 7-days by extending the lock on Ulduar. Additionally, extending an instance lock is a choice that’s solely up to each individual, and is not controlled by the group’s party or raid leader.

That means if your guild is working on, say, Yogg-Saron (as mine is, in point of fact), you can choose either to let the instance roll over and hit the farm bosses again the next week, or keep the timer alive and work on Yogg-Saron for as long as you want.

The difference between this and, say, Everquest 2’s system is that there is no forced reset. In the current PTR iteration, the instance can be prolonged indefinitely.

This effectively makes all farm content optional, at least until you’ve fully cleared the instance the first time. Raiders are now free to pursue progression at their own pace, without feeling time’s winged chariot at their heels.

Patch 3.2’s raid extension feature clarified.

Syp over at Bio Break (as well as several other folks) have lighted on this PC Gamer quote from the venerable Gordon Walton, currently studio director of the Star Wars: The Old Republic project:

“We have to ignore the top of the hardcore,” says Walton, talking about those players who will simply ignore the story and min-max their way to the top end of the game. “We need to make a game that is accessible to the Star Wars fan, and the BioWare fan. Because really BioWare is a company that is about making a great RPG experience, not about making games for a hardcore MMO audience.”

So, if you know me, you know I’m all about keeping the hardcore in their place.