Archive for September, 2010
This is a tale of two titles. One, the story of a squad of genetically altered super soldiers. The other, a sprawling sandbox following humanity’s expansion throughout the world. This is not so much about the games themselves, but about an often overlooked facet of gaming in the 21st century: the manual.
Manuals have fallen out of favor, it seems. We now have tutorials built into the games themselves, and many gamers just want to skip any hand-holding and get right into the action. It’s possible that this trend has originated from the idea that people don’t seem to want to take the time to sit back with a glossy manual and read about the game that they could be playing instead. Couple that with the whole “reduce waste” movement (killing trees and the like), and we’re seeing the decline of the physical instruction book. Granted, we’re not paying $50-$60 USD for a novel, but even when a manual is present (assuming you have a boxed copy), I’ve found that they cover the absolute basics: in-game narrative introduction, icon descriptions, control schemes, maybe game play type descriptions…but nothing about actually playing the game.
The manual for Halo: Reach is pretty anemic, offering only the above information, plus some info on enemies and gear (if I remember correctly. Ironically, I didn’t spend a lot of time reading the manual!). On the other hand, the manual for Civilization V clocks in at 232 printed pages, which is the size of a decent novella. The only way to get that into a box would be through the collector’s edition (which they don’t). To make it available to everyone, Firaxis has offered it as a downloadable PDF, and I will assume that it’s installed with the game itself as well. I had planned on securing Civ V, but this virtual tome has solidified my resolve: this is Serious Gaming(tm), people!
Granted, the difference between the “shoot everything that moves” Halo:Reach and the soul-sucking experience that is Civilization V means that the later benefits more from a manual then the former, but as someone who remembers when games came with a manual, a narrative journal, a system reference card and some kind of physical copy protection mechanism (like a code wheel or page-line-word lookup in the manual) I find that the devaluation of the manual is kind of sad, almost like a part of the holistic package has been excised. Sometimes I can’t play the game straight away, and would like satisfy my urge to play by paging through the manual during my lunch break. I guess now I’ll have to shell out the big bucks for the CE to get any kind of printed materials.
Here’s kind of a personal post. It’s gaming related, but not specifically about a game.
Twitter, Facebook and blogs are great sources for finding out about hidden gems and for gathering opinions. A lot of the time, relying on the “establishment” sites for “reviews” is a Bad Idea ™: you get only one person’s opinion, and the comments usually devolve into obnoxiousness the longer they go on, and add nothing towards helping me make up my mind about a product. But ideally, that’s exactly why people read reviews, so the process is kind of a let-down.
Instead, gathering a trusted, knowledgeable cadre of Twitterites – people who have the same interests, who can speak without foaming at the mouth, and who can, you know, reason – is one of the absolute best methods that I have found for discovery of all kinds of things, from music to books to movies and, of course, games.
But on occasion, it seems that the General Twitterati align at angles which are incongruous to my own. It’s times like these when I find myself wondering why I’m not agreeing with these people, the ones I trust, the ones that I have more in common with then I am in opposition with. And at these times, I feel kind of bad.
It started with Guild Wars 2. It seemed like everyone was gushing about how awesome it was, about how it would turn the MMO genre on it’s ear, about how gorgeous it was, and so on. A lot of original Guild Wars fans were on board this train and I don’t think I saw anyone actually saying anything negative about the game. Personally, I’m not opposed to GW2, but neither am I a diehard fan of GW. I just couldn’t get personally invested in what I was seeing in GW2, and I felt that I was missing some crucial piece of info – a screenshot, or a video – that might make me think differently.
It’s happening again now with Recettear, an indie game in which you play the role of a shop keeper selling wares to adventurers to keep her shop afloat. It seems that a lot of people are neck deep in the charm and uniqueness of the game, but after trying the demo, I found that I didn’t have the patience to even get to the dungeon crawling aspects of the title. There wasn’t much in the demo that really grabbed me enough to make me feel that I had to continue, much less buy the full game.
I try and avoid jumping into the daily fray with this point of view because I don’t feel that dissenting without offering any constructive reasons is worthwhile, and I absolutely positively don’t want to look like some ass-hat troll who dissents simply because he’s under the illusion that it makes him look cool and aloof. The fact that I feel bad about not getting excited about GW2 or have the patience to deal with Recettear is something that concerns me. Naturally, everyone has their own likes and dislikes, and not everything is a fit for every person. I get that, and that’s OK. What bothers me, personally, is that I follow these people because I trust their opinions, and because their interests align with mine. When they don’t, I wonder if there’s something that I’m missing, or if I’m generally getting out of sync with my community.
I know I’m not the only person who has had these feelings, and overall I know that opinions do differ, even in the face of overwhelming counter-opinion, but it sometimes feels more like being the only one at the party who didn’t watch the talked-about TV show, or see the weekend box-office hit: you’ve got nothing to add to the conversation, and have no idea what everyone is buzzing about.
Interesting Twitter-topic (Twopic?) this morning. Talyn328 mentioned that he agreed with a comment from Jack Emmert (of Cryptic) that “not all online multiplayer games need to have…crafting”. This, of course, got me thinking about the inclusion of crafting in pretty much all MMOs, how these systems are implemented, and whether or not they actually bring anything to the game.
Crafting has it’s fans, and it has it’s detractors. There are people who enjoy the idea of being able to create virtual goods for use or sale, but there are also those who might never touch the crafting system and may find it pointless all together. I, for one, am a fan – usually. In Star Wars Galaxies, I don’t think I ever engaged in combat unless I had to; instead, I scanned and placed harvesters and worked my way through the artisan tree to be able to make vehicles and housing. I hold SWG’s crafting system in the highest regard, because it was so in-depth: the quality of the materials mattered, you could experiment on the blueprint, and any items made bore your name. You could make a name for yourself if people realized your goods were always of top quality.
But most of the crafting systems we have today seem “tacked on”. They involve hoarding materials, buying a recipe and slamming the two together to get a product…the same product…all the time. There’s no chance of failure, it’s 100% mechanical and very lightweight. How does this kind of system benefit the player base, crafting-minded players, or the game as a whole?
Crafting can play a beneficial role. Goods produced can be used by players, or can be sold on the auction houses to generate cash flow. The experience of simple systems like those found in World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online fall far short of what SWG, Vanguard or EverQuest II offers. In the latter, players can actually play the game and advance strictly through crafting. I believe that crafting systems which allow players to play without having to resort to the usual formula of “kill X rats” is very appealing to players who enjoy the crafting experience, and as a true avenue of alternate advancement, should be something that receives more focus from developers in the future.
Games which “half-ass” their crafting systems (like WoW) might as well not even have crafting systems at all. Star Trek Online has crafting, but it’s so weak that it’s hard to find a reason why it exists. As Talyn328 put it, some crafting systems “did not need to be there at all within the design/lore of the IPs.” Generally, I think that any IP can explain away why crafting is present, but STO’s system exists simply because someone, somewhere decided that crafting had to be there to satisfy the “MMO Feature Checklist”.
This is a hard habit to break, and I think it’s where Mr. Emmert’s comment comes into focus. As much as I enjoy robust crafting systems, having simplistic systems for the sake of having a crafting system – or to paraphrase a Bioware developer who explained in an early dev video that Star Wars: The Old Republic would have crafting “because other games have it” – is a real disservice to everyone, both crafters and non-crafters. Crafters who are hoping for real, in-depth systems feel let down by a simple building-block system, and those who are interested in other game play systems might actually have had more content available had a segment of the design and development team not had to spend time creating and developing a crafting system.
In the end, I agree with Mr. Emmert. Not every game needs to have crafting, especially if it’s going to be overly simplistic and present as an afterthought. If a game is going to feature crafting, why not make it a first tier experience like combat or raiding? Make crafting necessary and relevant to people, not just as a puzzle piece to get people to socialize. If the design cannot fit a robust crafting experience into it’s design, then anything less is just busywork.