[MUD-Dev] Removing access to entertainment

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Tue Nov 18 13:21:04 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

Patrick Dughi writes:
> From: John Buehler

>> This is an observation about some graphical games that I've
>> played through the years, and a pet peeve that has been building
>> all that while.  I don't know if text games have this manifested
>> in any way, but the graphical games sure do: they remove my
>> access to entertainment as part of the normal operation of the
>> game.

> I have to disagree with the majority of this post.

> Entertainment in games is usually closely coupled with challenge.
> In multiplayer games, it's often coupled with competition.  For
> many, achievement without challenge removes any entertainment from
> the game - for example, many players enjoy using cheat codes to
> play a game, but often quickly grow tired of it, sometimes not
> even completing the given stage/level/area/etc.

I'm not talking about removing challenges.  Challenges can be very
entertaining.  I'm talking about barriers to accessing whatever
entertainment a game provides.

Let's say you're headed to play a game of basketball with your
friends.  But there's a traffic jam on the road.  Does that add to
or detract from your socializing and competing with your friends?
Do you enjoy the challenge of getting to the basketball game.

Later that week, you are going to challenge your friends to a trip
from your house to the airport during rush hour.  First one there
wins.  This is a challenge of knowing back roads, alleys, traffic
patterns.  In this case, traffic is part of the challenge, and not a
barrier to your entertainment.

The difference is what I'm talking about.

> This is important because many of your points focus on making the
> gaming experience easier, and subtly inferring that this will make
> the game more entertaining.

No, none of them do.  All of them are about permitting me to play
the game.  To reach the entertainment that the game designers
promised me.  That I would be able to group with other players.  I
can't do that while I'm waiting half an hour to reach that group.
That I would be able to see neato-whizbang graphics.  I can't do
that when my screen is dark (or darkened).  And so on.

> Entertainment, is not just some simplified hedonistic urge that's
> applicable to everyone.

I hope we can assume I know this.

> It's complex with many more factors than you're addressing.  Not
> only does each person have a different set of requirements, with
> multiplayer games, it's often not only your entertainment that's
> at stake, but balanced against the entertainment factor of others.

I disagree.  I'm not ignoring factors or design elements.  I'm
taking them into account and focusing on the very purpose of gaming
- entertainment.  Not everything that game designers incorporate
into their games is inherently entertaining.  Some of the stuff in
the games is only an offshoot of the fiction that has been chosen.

> Addressing your issues point by point;

>>   Example 1: Nighttime and rainstorms.

>>     In graphical games, the gee-whiz graphics are a major selling
>>     point.  All the screenshots that we see show amazing detail,
>>     wonderful graphics, magical effects and so on.  Yet half of
>>     the game time is rendered for 'night'.  The screen goes dark.
>>     I can't see the neato graphics.  In truth, I can't see much
>>     of anything.  Rainstorms do the same thing.

> I'm sure the developers want you to see the graphics here as well,
> and though many games may have poor implementations of weather
> which cause you to go snowblind or quite often, fogblind (*shakes
> a fist at the Turok games*), many games rely on visibility factors
> to adjust the challenge.  Shadows and darkness are annoying, I
> can't see if something's over the next hill or waiting in the
> corner, and you're liable to be eaten by a grue.  Walls get in
> your way just as often as rainstorms, and they're usually more
> effective at blocking the view.

> In cases where these are intended to hamper your ability to
> perceive so as to increase challenge, getting around them/removing
> them is actually considered cheating; Wallhacks, removal of
> shadows, positioning of other players/items.

> That's because they're challenges put there for you to overcome.

Like the traffic jam on the way to your basketball game.  Enjoy the
challenge of arriving on time.  My point is that darkness is not a
challenge.  It's a good way to develop eyestrain or to simply stop

>>   Example 2: Mesmerization.

>>     This is where one character is able to cause another
>>     character to go unresponsive to controls because it is
>>     'mesmerized'.  This effect can last 30 seconds or more.  But
>>     the esential truth of the effect is that the player can not
>>     play the game for those 30 seconds.

> Again though, it's a grey area.  How long should one be paralyzed
> before it's unfair?  Is 1 second too much?  What do you consider
> the X second pause between attacks, or the Y second pause from
> using a skill/spell?  Isn't that self-inflicted paralyzation?

Of course not.  I still have choices.  I can move.  I can use
instant-cast abilities.  I can do whatever else my character is
capable of.  I can do whatever I walked into that battle being able
to do.  If I couldn't, then I would be using those inter-swing
delays as examples of being unable to access game entertainment.
But that point would be even more lost here, given that what I
consider to be glaring examples have been immediately refuted.

> A mage paralyzes a fighter and gets 5 free attacks in.  Fighter
> thaws, and hits the mage twice for the equivalent of 6 mage
> attacks, killing him.  Of the two of them, the mage is probably
> more frustrated.  He doesn't get to use the big weapons, and he
> can't attack twice a round, and now he's dead.

You're still not getting my point.  The fighter can't engage in game
activities for the duration of that paralyzation.  He is no longer
playing the game.  For the problem of game balance that you're
talking about, paralyzation is a poor solution.

And why is the mage frustrated?  Because he can't continue combat
when he dies.  Combat is over.  He's dead.  He doesn't get to get
back to what he was enjoying for some period of time.  If he could
hop right up and try again, you can believe that he wouldn't be as
miffeda about losing that fight.  His frustration is the very
problem I'm talking about - he can't get to play the game.  He's
still looking at the game screen, and he still has the keyboard
there.  But he can't get his character to engage in game activities
that are fun to do.  Why else would that player trundle his mage
right back to the same geographic location after he completes the
annoyances of going through the game's death ritual?

> Also, don't discount that you are providing entertainment to the
> person doing the paralyzing.  In a balanced situation like our
> example where the fighter wins, both players probably come out
> more entertained than less, which should be true for balanced
> games.  They both had a shot, and though the means were different,
> the goals were the same, and they can perceive how close they came
> to that goal.

I discount that because we're talking about multiplayer games here.
Having one player remove access to entertainment for another player
is called griefing.  Game mechanisms that are predicated on griefing
are foolish.  They result in one player being dissatisfied with the
entertainment that the game provides.  The mechanisms of the game
are using one set of players as a barrier to entertainment for other
players.  Why set up exploration of the wilderness as a source of
entertainment for one group of players if there is another group of
players whose entertainment is predicated on robbing and killing the
explorers?  I'm thinking of my experiences with Ultima Online here.

> Though, I suppose if you're the sort of person who abhors loss of
> control, then I suppose this mechanism will grate poorly against
> you.  I'm sure other players dislike it their pet-peeve-mechanism
> is used against them (sniper/campers tend to rouse much hate, and
> so do 'trappers').  If you removed all those mechanisms, you'd be
> likely not to have much of a game left.  It's not like you can
> have both characters win each time.

I'm not big on losing control, but I'm also not big on people coming
up to my game of chess with someone and deciding that they want to
turn over the table.  They might enjoy that, and you might say that
now I have an 'opportunity' to beat the snot out of somebody.  But
if that's not the entertainment that I was pursuing, then I don't
care about that opportunity.  And yes, I submit to you that THAT is
exactly what game designs are doing (among other things).

>>   Example 3: Blindness.

>>     This is a combination of the first two examples.  A character
>>     causes another character to go blind, meaning that the player
>>     can't see anything in the game world.  Their controls may be
>>     accessible, but the world itself is not visible.

> In RPGs, blindness is rarely represented as a blank screen without
> access to the world.  I'm not sure which games you've been playing
> but in RPG's, this is most often represented as a penalty to the
> character's attack stats, and doesn't affect the actual player in
> any direct way.

The case that sprang to mind was early EverQuest, where my screen
would go blank.  I think that they've since taking it out because it
was recognized as a dumb move, but the example remains.

> Obviously, we don't have a sensation of movement or tactile senses
> with a video game when the screen is blank.  So it would be a poor
> developer that implements any sort of blindness of this type in an
> RPG.

Why?  By the metrics that I've been hearing, blindness implemented
as a blank screen would be the greatest challenge of all.  You can
still operate all your controls, but you can't see anything.

I wouldn't find that any more entertaining than you would, but by
the metrics of reality, immersion and challenge, a blank screen
would seem to be right on target.

>>   Example 4: Slow travel in large worlds.

>>     This is less removal of entertainment and more a barrier to
>>     getting to entertainment.  Let's say that the world is
>>     geographically large and the task to be tackled requires
>>     multiple players to come together.  Or multiple players
>>     simply want to gather because it's fun to do so.  The time it
>>     takes to assemble those multiple players from around the game
>>     world can be prohibitive.

> Travel, for travel's sake is quite abhorrent.  Few players want to
> see a simulated 10 minute FMV about journeying to another town,
> and even less will want to actually do the walking.  That's just
> mean.  There's nothing entertaining at all.

> I think the last RPG I played that was anything even close to that
> was "The Mines of Titan" [1], way back in the Apple II days, and I
> haven't seen any before or after it.  Which RPGs exhibit this
> trait?

Every one I've ever played.  Everquest required finding someone to
teleport you to your destination, or manually drive your character
to the destination.  People constantly begged for run speed spells
to quickly cover the boring gaps between destinations.  Asheron's
Call used portals, with running between portals and places of
interest.  They had a large world, so a certain amount of time was
used running around.  Dark Age of Camelot just came out with their
Trials of Atlantis expansion.  It is a sea, with islands.  As a
result, boat travel.  Boats are slow.  The world is large.  It can
take upwards of an hour for friends to assemble their characters at
the destination of interest.  With little-to-no entertainment value
associated with that hour.  Mostly people who are already at the
destination just go off and do chores, grab food, watch a football
game, change CDs, whatever.

> Travel from point A to point B is often an adventure by itself.
> In some games, exploration can be a key aspect (for example,
> Morrowind).  In others, it might just be the challenge to get to
> the next village alive (any NES-era RPG, basically).  Sure,
> organizing multiple players to gather and ~do whatever~ is
> difficult, but that's true even if you're in a geographically
> small area.  Organization itself is a pain, and distance is an
> issue once you're beyond 'combat range' no matter the system, even
> if it's one room away.

If the game is predicated on exploration, then travel IS the
entertainment.  It doesn't serve as a barrier.  I attempted to
illustrate that the entertainment being sought is at the
destination, and that the trip itself is of no interest.

Your statement that "organization itself is a pain" is along the
lines of barriers that I'm talking about.  If organization is a pain
as a result of the game structure, it should be changed.  Why not
let a bunch of players who want to do a certain activity that
requires geographic colocation simply let the players colocate?  If
it isn't overtly damaging to the entertainment of other players, why
insist on the fiction of travel when that travel is inherently a
pain?  It is these 'pains' that I am calling barriers to access.

> Further, most systems have a recall, or horse, or summon, or gate
> like device which will quickly and easily relocate them, and often
> is readily available at lower-middle levels and above.  The levels
> that it's not available to are often not meant to travel far
> anyway.

Yes, those mechanisms are in.  They shorten the delays.  Usually.
Sometimes they are the very problem.  Bugs and such.  Falling off a
horse by typing the wrong key (done it).  Being dropped in the ocean
because the wrong key was typed (seen it).  The travel mechanisms
are *endured*.  They are barriers that are simply part of the
fiction of the world.  But they ARE barriers.  If players could
simply blip to the place that they were going to do the group
activity, they would in a heartbeat.  And not consider the game any
less entertaining as a result.  Unlike some demi-god mode that
circumvents the very challenges that a game's entertainment is
predicated on.

> At the tail end of this point though, you have to realize that
> geographically large games are trying to represent a
> geographically large area.  Look at HALO, for example, with its
> comparatively large areas for an FPS game.  Without those long
> stretches, would the vehicles have had the same impact?  Would the
> long distance weapons be as advantageous?  What about assaults on
> enemy bases - when yours is attacked, does it make sense that you
> and your raiding party should instantly -SNAP- back to it? In the
> end, I have to ask how one would represent a large area without
> including the traits that make it a large area?  Instant
> transportation seems to be - in most cases - a thing that would
> kill many entertaining aspects of the game.  Travel is often a
> constant and challenging part of the game.

The assumption here seems to be that the fictions that we have in
our games are inherently entertaining.  Perhaps real world mechanics
and structures are inherently flawed as sources of entertainment,
encouraging us to incorporate realistic barriers as well.

In my own game design, I've eliminated death.  Player characters
don't die.  Why bother?  They don't stay dead, and no death
mechanism I've ever heard of could be considered mainstream
entertainment.  Even it was, I'd make it a mainstream element of the
game that could be accessed easily.  Not just when a character dies.
If it was entertaining, people would be jumping off buildings in
order to access it.

I mention eliminating death because death has inherent problems with
it as a source of entertainment.  Our expectations of it require
barriers.  People talk about penalties for death.  I'm not
interested in penalizing people.  I just want them to know when
they've won or lost in combat.  Dueling in Dark Age of Camelot is an
example of this.  You fight, one character 'dies', then five seconds
later, is back on his feet.  No muss, no fuss.  That makes combat
viable, without builtin barriers.  The only barrier that the player
wants is the character and player opposing him and his character.
THAT is the entertainment.  All the other stuff is context-defined

So if I eliminate death, then I can have combat between characters
where those involved understand that there will be no win-loss by
incapacitating or killing opponents.  Victories are more strategic.
Perhaps simply by driving back opponents a certain distance.  I
haven't thought of all the win scenarios.  But once a win is scored,
everyone knows it and that's the end of the combat.  Player
expectations are altered, and barriers to entertainment are removed
- while SOME fiction is maintained.  Not a medieval bloodletting
one, nor a high-tech arms war.  But SOME fiction is maintained that
players would hopefully find entertaining, depending on the
execution of the design.

> What this looks like to me - on casual inspection - is not a list
> so much of what developers do that irks players in general, but
> rather, one person's experience on perhaps a single (theoretical)
> system.  Which games specifically represent the negative aspects
> of these points?  I'm coming up with zilch.

Ultima Online, EverQuest, Asheron's Call and Dark Age of Camelot.
I'm playing Dark Age of Camelot right now, and it has been nagging
me, while reminding me of many things that these games do that
strike me as inherent barriers to accessing the very entertainment
that they provide.

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