Monday, April 18, 2011


There are two (subjective) ways to beat content:

- using your ingenuity,
- doing what you are supposed to do.

The latter feels a lot less fun. But the latter is also the trap designers necessarily run into when designing perfectly tuned challenging content. There is no way to design very challenging, but still beatable content without having a way in the back of your mind about how the player is supposed to beat it.

The feeling of having overcome an enemy not by use of your ingenuity, but by doing it the way you were supposed to do it, is disillusioning. You are not free, but bound to an artificial fate.


  1. As I recently told Tobold:
    The thing I miss most about raiding, something that I haven't done in a long time, is saying on vent "I have a stupid idea", and then we try it. Usually, it was stupid. But shit, that's half the fun!

    I think the problem is that Blizzard is too obsessed with class balance. They can't just throw something together and tweak damage levels. Instead they have to carefully craft every single aspect of a fight to avoid the risk that the fight is challenging under most circumstances, but if you bring a sub rogue it's trivialized. Then the next fight is ruined by a demo warlock. And so on.

    If you really want to be sure that every class gets in, you have to design fights much more carefully, which means more scripting. Giving AI some basic rules and seeing what happens is a recipe for player creativity, which frightens Blizzard to no end.

  2. Exactly my reasoning, Klepsacovic.

  3. Speaking with my designer hat on, I *love* it when players come up with their own way to handle things I throw at them. It's either emergent behavior which can be a lot of fun and lead to other, even better games (say, Defense of the Ancients/tower defense as derived from WC3), or it shows where my game is broken and needs fixing.

    I don't enjoy making players go through little rat mazes, I love facilitating their creativity and fun.

  4. The part you are missing is that player ingenuity is fun for the first group that does that content.

    Then it rapidly becomes annoying as every group which comes after follows the same solution, and has to do whatever contortions or respecs that are required to do the fight "the easy way".

    At least the "expected path" is fairly straightforward, and aimed at the default group.

  5. Rohan, this is exactly why we need unpredictable content as opposed to hand-crafted, repeating content.

    Since Blizzard is a pioneer at this kind of content (Diablo), I hope for their sake that they have set their high-payed programmers the task to get it done.

    This would also be the kind of technological advantage that would keep them the leader in the MMORPG market for years to come; something bribing tanks won't achieve.

  6. I think for a designer, any way that you manage to outflank the design is an exploit, because they have no way of anticipating whether your loophole will make the content easier than it was intended to be, since they didn't know it existed in the first place. So perhaps in an optimal design your freedom to innovate would consist only in your inability to see the bars of your prison.

  7. That must be the first time that A) Nils and I agree completely, and B) Nils manages to express the same thought in significantly less words than me.

  8. Roq, I think you are missing a point here. It's not a loophole, it's a basic availability of different options. In TES: Morrowind, there is a fork of doom, which is, literally, a fork. That thing does like 1 damage or something like that and for a specific (none plot) quest, you have to grab it and kill a large monster with it, that does pretty much no damage to you, but it will take you fifteen minutes of stabbing. Here is a sample of "doing what you have to", because if you do it differently, your quest will fail. But say you hit the monster down with something else, and just deliver the death blow with the fork, or lure it so it takes damage from the environment somehow, then you get different options. Different players will come up with different solutions, but you have to insert provisions for solutions or the possibilities for them into the game as designer. Loopholes are always possible, no matter what though.

  9. Speaking of Diablo, it strikes me that in a sense (number of players playing for amount of time), WoW is positioned to be one of the least successful games Blizzard has ever created.

    Of course because people are paying monthly subscriptions it is the most successful in terms of profits, but the game came out in 2000 millions of people are still playing Diablo 2. I doubt WoW will have that many people playing on its 11th anniversary.

    The same could be said for Starcraft, which would still probably have millions of people playing it today if Blizzard hadn't released Starcraft 2.

    When I imagine what Diablo 2 would be like if content had been developed for it for ten years, it seems like it could be incredible. Using either a microtransaction system for buying new dungeons or a low subscription fee, a game like this could be expanded indefinitely and the beauty of it is that because the majority of the new content generates itself, development gets to be more about themes, art and quests than about tuning.

    The Diablo 2 experience is not really translatable into an MMORPG (it's the definition of a massively single player game), if there is any game company that could actually take the idea of generated content and apply it I would bank on Blizzard (or on a company that none of us have heard of yet coming out of nowhere with it).