Monthly Archives: May 2012

Diablo 3 – Random Returns for Vengence

I have always been perfectly upfront about how I feel about using Random as a game design tool.

To catch anyone new up: I hate it. I think it is a terrible idea. It’s a terrible crutch.

The entire point of a designer is to sculpt the experience for the player. To create the world for them to interact with. To make something amazing for the player to play in. Using random takes the control away from the designer and puts it in the hands of a program.

So by this extension, I wouldn’t even try Diablo. It’s a randomly generated world, with randomly generated enemies, with randomly generated loot. Good lord, it’s a trifecta of bad random. But I love Blizzard and I had fun playing the beta, so I knew I would play the game.

How does Diablo 3’s randomness make me feel? Like I was right all along.

1. The Problem with Randomly generated gameplay spaces.

First off, Diablo 3 doesn’t use randomly generated levels everywhere. And to be fair, their code is much better at creating spaces than it was in Diablo 2.

BUT. Diablo 3’s random maps all suffer from the same problem: Jogging simulation. If you don’t head the right direction, and there are a bunch of branches in the path, you can and will find yourself backtracking over huge portions of terrain. For a game that is all about fast paced action and demon slaughtering, this leads to some very boring lengths of time in the middle of your fun.

Even worse is when you have these huge sprawling dungeons, where the named enemy you are supposed to be killing spawns three rooms over from the chest of loot. Way to protect your treasure man.

 

2. Random Enemies – oh god or yawn.

The idea behind the enemies sounds good. Each enemy has a modifier. Vortex, Frozen, etc etc. The idea is that when an enemy gets created, it has 2-4 of these modifiers which gives it abilities and makes it more interesting.

A good idea, in theory. But in practice shows the painful problem with random modifiers like that. Some modifiers aren’t that scary or dangerous to the player. Many are extremely dangerous to the player just by themselves. If you get a monster with two of the weak powers, they are a one finger pushover, almost on par with standard enemies. If you get one with 2 of the powerful modifiers, you are toast.

Add this to the random placement of enemies, in randomly generated terrain, and you get serious gameplay problems. I zoned into a basement area, that had an enemy with the modifier that lets him freeze me in place, and the modifier that lets him create arcane orbs that generate a beam of death that moves in a circle. Both of these abilities are combated by moving away from them and kiting the bad guy. But I was in a basement. Not only that, the boss’ trash mobs with him managed to corner me and block me from moving at all. I got thrashed repeatedly, because I couldn’t even get far enough into the room to not be completely surrounded and have collision preventing me from moving away from the stuff I knew was bad and I shouldn’t be standing in.

 

3. Random Loot – Good thing we have the auction house.

I have a level 42 Wizard in Act 3 of Nightmare. I search every corner, every dungeon, kill every enemy. I pick everything up. I just bought the third tab of my stash. I like to loot.

Over the course of the game, I have probably gotten 40-50 rares. Of all these rares, I have been able to equip about 5 of them. Only one actually had stats that made me want to equip it. I haven’t equipped a drop since I was level 15.

I get all my gear from the Auction House. Period. I sell things I get that are decent, but I can’t use, and I buy things I can use.

If not for the auction house, I would be sitting around farming some boss or other hoping for rares. Only 1 in 50 of which I will be able to use.

Boy, that sounds like fun. (Or not so much.)

Would it really change the game that much to have the rares at the very least be ones I can equip on that character? Even then you have the second random of it getting stats you want/need, but must we double roll to get anything? Actually, triple roll, because not all bosses drop rares all the time!

To recap: The boss has to drop a rare, which might not happen, you have to be able to equip the rare, which might not happen, and then the rare has to have useful stats on it, which my wands with strength on them prove doesn’t happen. Yay. This is fun. *said in Simon voice*

 

I get that all of this is kind of the “point” of Diablo. That’s the base of the design. But really, it just means that here I am, in Nightmare, already sick of the game. Already ready to go back to WoW, where at least I am fairly certain a boss will drop something useful, even if I can’t use it.

I feel that there is a possibility for a Diablo like game (in the base game play idea) that doesn’t rely on random or at the very least mitigates the negatives of using random. Loot may be randomized, but at least have logical limits placed on them. (Like all wands have to have Int and Vit, but the secondary stats, and the amount of the primary stat can be random. Also guarantee that at least 1 rare item off each boss is equip-able by the character playing, though in multiplayer this could be any one of the characters playing.) Monsters may be randomized, but their powers weighted, so you never have an enemy with more than a 10 difficulty rating and then you give all the worst powers a 6 so they never appear together. Levels shouldn’t be randomized. I mean honestly. Use modular pieces, and throw something together. Anything designed by a person will be better than a computer.

It’s worth a shot huh?

Hey, I was playing with that.

Minecraft 1.8. I couldn’t wait. Villages, abandoned mines, Endermen… oh, my!

Until Notch broke my world. Okay, to be fair, he didn’t break the world. But when I would go an investigate a new area, new chunks would spawn and there were “issues” due to the fact they Mojang changed the way the world was created. Like my ocean dropping down one block in the middle of no where.

I tried to keep playing. I really did. I persisted for about a week. Then gave up and started a new world, which I played for about a week.

I realized that Minecraft would be releasing in November and this mean that I only had 2 months with this new world before they likely broke it again. So I just stopped playing Minecraft until then. It seems wrong to stop playing a game I enjoy simply because I know the world is going to be broken.

 

This really brings up a larger issue with games, persistent and otherwise, and the way some designers approach them. My main complaint is this:

I spent time and money playing your game. Respect my investment, or I won’t be returning.

I love Minecraft, but I won’t be giving Mojang another dime. I won’t be buying their new games. They don’t respect the player’s time invested into their creations.

Is it an easy fix to make the world add new things in already discovered and explored areas of the game? No, it’s not. But it is respectful of the player. I spent at least 2 months building my obsidian palace and digging my huge quarry. Respect the work I did and do not screw up my save file because you want the ocean to be one block lower.

In World of Warcraft, for the most part, when I do or earn something, it’s done. I get to keep it. And for the most part, Blizzard does a great job of respecting the player’s time. You spend enough time and you can get anything. They have messed this up on occasion (Keymaster, the Darkmoon Faire turn in achievement, removal of old quests and rewards) but for the most part, this seems to be a design goal they meet.

This is perhaps one of my greatest gripes with Jolt’s games like Legends of Zork (now gone) is that they were wildly disrespectful of the player. Your time and money meant nothing and they were completely willing to wipe it off the game’s database.

As a game designer, when dealing with games that will be updated, or patched, always stop and consider each change from the point of view of the player. Does it make their achievement worthless? Does it make time they invested worthless? Does it “roll back” things they have earned? If you ever answer yes, stop. Think. Is there a better way? There probably is. That is what game design is all about, finding the best way to do something.

 

I am playing Minecraft again, but I will admit, I found a bug that lets me dupe items. And by god, I have been using it like mad. I no longer care about doing things “legit”. What’s the point? Mojang is just going to screw them up anyway.

Reading a Bad Book

Richard Dansky wrote a post on responses to reading bad books. It made me think about all the bad books I have come across recently.

Ironically, most of them have been recommended to me by friends or people I respect. And yet the books turns out to be abysmally bad. Like not Twilight bad, but close. The truly sad thing is, when I express my dislike of the books, I am met with blank stares and people who point to the books being on best selling lists. Yeah, well… so was Twilight.

I got through all of Richard’s stages every time I read a bad book.

1. Resignation:

To be fair, I do this much less than I used to. I am much more willing to bail on a bad book, movie, or game now than I used to be. I never had the sunk cost fallacy issue. To me, it was much more of the “hope springs eternal” thought. Surely the book would get better. Surely the writer would redeem the story.

Now, if I am 100 pages in and I still hate all your characters, I am going to bail. Sorry.

Notable exception: Karen Miller and the Godspeaker Trilogy. I persisted through the book, not because of the plot, characters, or even the world, but rather because of the glorious construction of the words.

He was right, I did grow out of this.

2. Indignation:

I do this quite frequently. I get mad that such unimaginative crap has been published, I sit down and write on my own work to “cleanse” the taste from my mouth. Also, I tend to go back and re-read stuff I know is good. Every poorly written fantasy novel has me crawling back to Robert Jordan. Every terrible love story has me slipping back to Julia Quinn. Every idiotic children’s series sends me right back to the Dark is Rising.

The funny thing is, I don’t do this just on books. Blogs trigger this response as well, as do video games. Video games are perhaps the worst, because I know I could do better than that stupid designer, but that company won’t hire me. Likely because I call their designers stupid.

3. Rage:

I love what he says : “they could have spent doing literally anything else is enough to bring out a Hulk-like rage, often punctuated by the book in question going airborne. While counterproductive, it’s quite cathartic.”

Oh but how un-Hulk like his response. Throwing the book? Haha. Amateur. I devise horrible ways to destroy said books. My favorite being the football spike into the Recycle Bin. See that? You words mean as much to me as the phone book and junk mail. I had a Calculus book go up in flames once. I used a terrible romance to practice my book hollowing technique.

I hate destroying books, so when an author has managed to get me to this level of rage, they are quite exceptional with their badness.

4. Peace:

I will never achieve peace. Because even if I recognize a book as able to stand on merits other people appreciate (I am looking at you Game of Thrones) their existence bothers me. How can people who seem reasonable, intelligent, and interesting like something so … illogical, stupid, and boring? I have been known to throw books away rather than give them to people I know would want them, simply because I don’t want them coming back in 3 months trying to get me to give it a second chance.

 

He says he hasn’t migrated to electronic books because of the worry of slinging said electronic, and while I have to agree with his point, in practice, I find disposal of ebooks much easier than paper books. A mediocre ebook can be tossed into the “Probably never gonna read again” category and ignored, never taking up precious apartment space or needing to be carried to Goodwill. A truly terrible ebook can be deleted. While not as cathartic as chucking it, or spiking it, at the very least, it’s a moment of “Let’s just pretend I never bought and downloaded you.”

 

So what is it about a book that makes it bad to me?

1. I hate the characters.

I need at least one likable character. One character I care what happens to. And that character, can’t be treated like crap the entire story. I first encountered this with the Dragonlance books. I loved the trilogy I read, then in the fourth book, they kill off all the characters I liked, leaving the one character I hated. I never read another one, and even more telling, I never read the trilogy again.

The Magicians was one such book. There were no characters of redeeming value. They were all spoiled rotten little twits that just annoyed the crap out of me. When I decided to stop reading I actually had a moment where I stopped to imagine a nuke going off in their little school. Any time I think a book is improved by a total board wipe, it’s time to stop reading.

2. It’s the Hero’s Journey.

Prophecy, long lost child who is actually the rightful ruler, two comedic sidekicks, scoundrel, mother/maiden/crone… oh god spare me. I really want to send these authors a copy of Mistborn and say, “Hey, take a minute and read about what you can do without resorting to crap we’ve heard so much we know exactly how the story is gonna end by the end of the first chapter.”

3. Wildly long tangents that have nothing to do with the story.

Tom Bombadil, die in a fire.

If a writer does this, he had better wait until book 4+ so I am invested. Or even better, make it suddenly wildly important later, we just didn’t know it at the time. Don’t waste my time.

4. Mary Sue/Self insertion fan fic.

Okay, this is Twilight, but the worst thing is, I see it everywhere now. People aren’t trying to create interesting stories. They are just writing out their fantasies. Of my 4 works I have written a great deal on, NONE are places I would want to live. None are situations I would want to be in. I could write a book about sitting around playing WoW all day, but god, who would want to read it?

5. I don’t trust the main character, any of their friends, and honestly, I don’t think they are right.

Trudi Canavan… How you managed to make a book full of what are supposed to be the good and awesome protectors of the world all seem like bad guys… beats me. Here’s the thing though, I am not a fan of bad guys. I like the good guys. or at the very least bad guys who are forced to be good guys.

This is the same problem I had with the rebellion in Hunger Games. Nothing they did proved they were any better than the Capitol. They were cut from the same cloth. Wonderfully, Katniss sees through this and reacts in an exactly appropriate manner.

6. They take themselves too seriously.

This is perhaps my favorite thing about Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. She never takes herself seriously. She never takes her writing seriously. And it makes it that much funnier. Some non-fiction writers just don’t get this. They think being published requires gravitas. It doesn’t.

7. The author makes no attempt to be logical or consistent.

The Spiderwick Chronicles really set me off with this one. Huge plot holes, shifting truths, and complete changes to what characters believe, without any explanation or attempts at explanation. She didn’t even say the “a wizard did it” line to try and smooth it over.

Bleh.

 

There are so many more, but these are the big ones. And they aren’t universal. There can be exceptions, but for the most part, I really feel like some writers are just angry at their readers and want to punish them.