Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Wanna Choose My Own Adventure

Here's a fun little tidbit about me: I enjoy collecting original Playstation games. I have FF7-9, Crash Bandicoot, Marvel vs. Capcom and even an obscure title called Ehrgeiz which included Cloud Strike and Sephiroth as characters in a fighting game. And a really odd RPG dungeon crawler. Regardless, given that I've been sitting on my hands waiting for SWTOR to come out I chose look through them and found a copy of Harvest Moon: Back to Nature. Everytime I thought of Farmville I thought of my experiences with this game, as the experience was pretty much the same except for the micro transactions and the weird Japanese style dating sim. Though I'm sure Natsume could make a Facebook game that could blow Farmville out of the water (in terms of meaningful gameplay that is) that is not why I'm bringing it up.

I'm bringing it up because it's made me think of the styles of gameplay that go into a title. Not the overall parts, but really the little bits. I'm aware others have covered the topic before with varying results, but I felt like examining it anyway.

Using Harvest Moon, for example, you have many different parts to what would otherwise be a simple goal. Planting crops involves multiple steps, such as tilling the ground in a pattern to maximize yield, spreading the seeds, and then watering them every in-game day. Until it is harvest time and you can sell them and do it all again. There is the money aspect of it as well, which makes you budget and invest in crops or tools that will increase your yield, which will then increase your money, which you then invest once more. It's a fun cycle, and one with multiple choices. For example, you don't have to plant to get money. You can mine for a smaller daily yield, but more consistent as well. Or fish. Or buy a chicken, incubate the eggs and make more chickens to make more eggs to sell said eggs. Or cows. Or sheep.

...actually, that's about all the money making schemes I can think of at the moment. Regardless, you aren't restricted to how you get the money, just that you get the money. I'm all about choices. But I'm also all about goals. Put me in EVE and I won't have any idea what to do with myself. Put me in LOTRO and I'll charge on to end-game, raid...and then stop abruptly. Maybe do another class, but you get the point. But another class just isn't enough to warrant doing it all over again. Harvest Moon, I can make an animal farm and neglect crops entirely. Or only do crops, build a greenhouse and harvest tomatos all winter. Or an anagram of both. Same ending, different path.

Which brings me to why I'm worried about SWTOR. There are class specific quests, but each faction only has one path to end-game, quest-wise. And with all this focus on story...well, how many times can you sit through the same movie over and over again, regardless of how good it is? There is a limit.

But that was only a tangent. There are little pieces, and the little pieces are what make a game, and in my opinion, an MMORPG. Kill dudes to get gear to kill dudes is just not complicated enough to hold someone's attention. Sure, the ultimate goal may be to kill the biggest dude, but maybe I want to mine stuff to build weapons to kill dudes to get to the better mining stuff. Or build a robot. Or make enough money to hire myself a group of people to kill dudes for me.

Or better yet? Join the dudes and kill the people who are trying to kill the dudes. I don't want to talk about balance or feasibility for any of these, because I know I could come up with a solid rebuttal for all of them. But at the heart of it I just want more options to experience the setting they give me, whether it be sci-fi, fantasy or modern.


  1. I imagine SWTOR is going after the "3rd way" of having the prefabricated stories up front, and then letting you make stories/set goals in the endgame.

    I'm fine with Sandboxes, but fundamentally I pay these people to entertain me, not charge me for entertaining myself. I can do that for free.

    And besides, there is nothing necessarily stopping you from RPing or otherwise sandboxing it up in just about any MMO. I may not be able to build a castle or whatever like in Minecraft, but that doesn't mean there are no interesting player-driven stories to tell.

  2. Mm, it's less about RPing than it is about mechanical choices. I can RP to my hearts content in just about any online game on the market, from EVE to WoW, and find a satisfying experience. I'm talking more about allowing players to take different paths to the same goal. I don't think meaningful progression should be one or two straight lines to the goal.