Options are good

Yes, that's a vegetable gun.

I’ve said it more times than I care to think here. For me, when it comes to gaming, options are good. Options provide choice, and making a choice is intriguing. Being able to decide how to do things on your own and complete them in the manner of your choosing is the essence of freedom. As I see it, the more this philosophy is carried out, the more interesting the gameplay.

For example, I’ve only played* the VERY early portions of the original BioShock so far, and this levels are very limited on what you can use as far as powers, buffs, and enhancements. You can unlock more slots for each of these things as you progress through the game, but there is an upper cap at which point, you need to make a judgement call on what you are going to use. This has been a lot of fun for me so far. When going against a Big Daddy, I had to decide if it was more useful to take my electric power, my charm power, or my telekinesis power (to throw his grenades back him) – I got to pick two. That’s a meaningful decision with a host of options dependent on how I wanted to play.

So, with that said, when I read a post yesterday on Gordon’s blog, I was floored by just how much I absolutely disagree with his stance on one area.

The bit in particular that I disagreed with was a specific segment where he analyzed why he felt the class system of WoW was more enjoyable (emphasis mine):

Of course WoW is utterly constrained and inflexible and that’s the beauty of it. It reduces complexity by reducing choice and making each action so seamless and effortless… In many ways Blizzard is like the Apple or Google of the MMORPG world: appealing to the mainstream by enhancing usability through limiting choice and reducing uncomfortable decisions.

I squirmed in my chair at reading that. It was that bad. His final comparison to Apple is incredibly accurate as well, and in a similar fashion, I don’t care for Apple products in general (having gleefully opted for an Android phone this time around). While I don’t disagree with his summation on appealing to the mainstream, his assertions that there is beauty in the regimented iron-fist of the class design in WoW is so anathema to my way of thinking, that I’m virtually unable to posit a rebuttal. Virtually.

My issue with this statement, is like I said above, that choice inherently provide variations in completion. Variations in play creates different styles and levels of performance. If done properly, giving players the freedom to decide how to complete a task lets them choose their level of engagement, as well as a slew of secondary benefits. Ideally, if the option is to use a simple method of completion, perhaps the performance should be less optimal than a method that is more difficult to enact. You see this type of philosophy in games like League of Legends in the form of skill shots.

I make the concept of complexity (options) and simplicity (rigid structure) to that of wine, or of a person’s palate. Refinement of a palate usually means that you can detect and understand the subtle variances and flavors of something. In scotches you may taste the smoke and blackberry flavor notes, and be able to tell what region of Scotland the beverage comes from by how strong of a presence the tannins have. With wine, you can find hints of various berries and woods as well. Part of the enjoyment of these hobbies is finding and appreciating the subtle differences between various choices. A simple scotch gets dull after a while to someone who’s been drinking it for years.

While I understand Gordon’s desire to have an iconic, singular experience from the get-go of an MMO, I don’t believe that reality has to come at the expense of complexity. Creating an experience that is guided and singular, with no variation is the lazy way to enforcing a design vision. I’m not saying that Rift nailed it in that department (though, playing a Marksman, Bladedancer, and Riftblade all felt entirely different).  There is a place for simplistic design, but I think as gamer’s mature, they naturally grow past that stage.

*Yes, I know, gamer cred revoked. But I pretty much only play MMORPGs on PC, and everything else is console. Getting BioShock on the PS3 is a nightmare endeavor just recently found success.

About Shadow
Making serious business out of internet spaceships.

3 Responses to Options are good

  1. Rikker says:

    I really wish I had insightful and meaningful things to add… but really all I can say here is:

    I concur.

  2. Nice post!

    I think most gamers would agree with you because they like to think about their decisions and be given the freedom and flexibility to make as many different ones as they can. However, when applied to the mainstream non-gamer market, this philosophy isn’t nearly as effective as providing simple, streamlined, effortless options. I honestly believe that this concept of design of is what’s make games like WoW and products like the iPhone so popular.

    A good case study for me was when my brother started playing WoW. He’s a smart guy and geek too but doesn’t game much and I absolutely horrified at how difficult he found WoW. He used to call me constantly to ask where he should put his talent points! To him, even the simple decisions offered in WoW were enough to make him think.

    Of course, it’s all about appealing to different audiences. Games like RIFT or EVE won’t ever – or so I believe – challenge the popularity of WoW because they haven’t managed to capture the beautiful simplicity of it. I’m not saying WoW’s perfect or even that I want to play it right now but I do admire the skill it takes to craft something streamlined enough to appeal to the mass market.

    • Shadow says:

      I think you’re right about those games never challenging the place of WoW. Rift can probably come closer only because (as I see it) the game doesn’t take the simplistic overall outlook of WoW any further in any area other than the character development.

      As for appreciation of what Blizzard has done, I have a hard time with that. Not that I don’t appreciate it, but – to continue the analogy – what I feel towards it is more akin to how I feel about most bottles of blended malts (Dewars, Chivas, etc…). I recognize that it was a great way to start in on a hobby, but that I wouldn’t want to drink it for the drink itself – merely for the affect of what it does (preferably in a mixed drink).

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