Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tin Mechanics - Scaling Difficulty

"Mercifully, we're seeing the start of a change in the way these mechanics are implemented. Lately, the big recurring element is the idea of scaling difficulty, instances or quests that grow or shrink depending on the size of the group. And, of course, that prompts fears that the game is just catering to solo players and the removal of any interesting group experiences, turning the entire game into a single-player experience that just happens to be online."

I seem to enjoy responding to Massively's Soapbox posts, don't I?

Scaling difficulty is something I have a fairly biased opinion on, especially when it comes to group content. This is because I spent a good amount of time in City of Heroes, a game I consider to have done it right. Except for the part where the servers crash because too many people are in one spot. Then, yeah, that just sucks.

Back on track here, I'm at a loss as to how one could describe this (at least, City of Heroes' implementation) as catering to the solos and removing group experiences. It can't be due to efficiancy: Group players can get more exp/hr than a solo player ever can. It can't be endgame, because all of the important endgame content isn't soloable at all. And the most important aspect, if my previous post is of any indication, is that scaling content doesn't take away from developer time on group content. It just makes the group content available to players who don't have the time, energy or patience to put together a group. 

I bolded the ever-loving hell out of that statement because it's important to me. Group content that can be soloed should take precedence over solo content you can bring a group to. An example of the latter would be quests in WoW these days. They are built for you to do them alone. Sure, you can bring along a friend, but it's not necessary and sometimes actually makes you level up slower. If reports on the exp rate are any indication, perhaps that would be a good thing to do.

No, group content that can be soloed is like the Rikti Invasion events that pop up. If the aliens show up in your zone, a number of mobs will spawn next to you that have two distinct qualities: Firstly, they have no level. Anyone can fight them and win, though higher level characters who have improved their powers clearly have an advantage, and even a level 1's buffs, debuffs, heals and damage can substantially contribute.

However, I don't think scaling content should be universally applied to a game. That is a poor decision. It should apply to instances, and events such as the one I mentioned above. Why? I think Zubon from Kill Ten Rats said it the best, despite him talking about Borderlands: " It’s great that you can have a Playthrough 2 where everything is even-con to make it a potentially meaningful challenge, but it really drives home that you put levels in a FPS where they add so little that you built mechanics to get around having levels in your FPS."

There are options available. It is possible to create group content without sacrificing the solo player, and vice versa. It is also an excellent way to reuse old dungeons and content by simply ramping up the challenge for end-game players. A cheap way, yes, but this post isn't about dealing with that particular problem.

1 comment:

  1. I seem to be in complete agreement with you here. :)

    Just wanted to go even further and point out that, if done right, making group content scalable and available to the solo player can actually bring more people into the group experience that otherwise would have avoided it.

    Being unfamiliar with encounters is one of many things that can scare people away from even attempting to group up. Allowing them to get their feet wet by soloing scaled-down group content removes that barrier.

    This is not just a hypothetical, I'm seeing it happen in LOTRO skirmishes, which are entirely soloable, but for which there are decent incentives to try doing them in groups.

    Of course, there's still the fear that "I'm not skilled enough", or that "People will be rude". But every little bit helps.