Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Small Decisions, Part II

In the comments to the last post, Talarian references Sid Meier's quote, "A game is a series of interesting choices."

Not all choices are made equal, though. Some choices are hugely important, some are less so. Some seem important at the time, but in hindsight were not. Some choices are difficult to make, others are easy.

My question is: Are small choices better than no choices?

The thing about removing all these small choices is that they really were not replaced with anything else. Or were replaced with a large choice that comes far apart in time.

Consider talent points. You used to make one small choice every level. Then that got replaced with one large choice every 15 levels. I've argued before that this was not a good change for the leveling game. The frequency of choice is also important, not just the magnitude of the choice.

A lot of other commenters brought up the point that these small choices were what added immersion to the world. I confess that I didn't consider immersion at all. But it is true. A lot of what we spend our time with in the real world is trivial (for example, choosing a drink at Starbucks), but that trivia adds texture. It is logical that minor choices would do the same thing for a game world.

Another common comment was that these choices are "no-brainers" and because they were not difficult choices, they were not necessary. I am not sure that I agree with this point of view. Some choices should be easy. Some choices should have a high success rate.

I think this is especially important for newer or less competent players. They need choices to make and be successful with. Small successes lead to larger successes. There's a reason that every guide in the old days emphasized taking enough reagents to the raid. This was something small and easy you could do, that made you a better player than you were before. A hunter that kept her pet fed was a better hunter than one who ignored the pet.

And of course, we all remember the people who failed these choices. If the choice was truly a "no-brainer" why did people keep failing on it?

I think the idea that all choices in a game should be hugely difficult is wrong. A good game needs a variety of choices, including some simple and obvious (to experienced players) choices. These small choices instill confidence in new players, and guide them to the more difficult choices. They make the game more interesting than having no choice at all.

13 comments:

Redbeard said...

Don't forget going back to train when you went up in levels. That got thrown out the door as well, which means that the only reason you see a trainer around is for dual spec.

Justin said...

This is mostly in response to people in the other thread but figured we'd move the discussion here.

I agree that purchasing vendor items isn't much of a decision, but notice three of the examples I gave. Dire maul food, dark runes from scholo, soul shards. Other people correctly pointed out that vendor food was substandard.

I could calculate how many hours I spent on vent getting people together to go farm chimareok chops. They were a living hell to solo, actually it was really fun, but insanely hard for most people. The combination of high damage, tightly packed mobs many of whom were linked together and the de-aggro radius/timer made it very difficult to kill them.

So you'd find a group and get out and the world. Sometimes it was me solo'ing them were I would average 5-6 kills an hour, constantly soulstoned so that when I messed up I had an easy rez. Sometimes I would group with 1-2 raiders from other top guilds (on my server) and we'd farm together splitting the loot.

But we were out in the world, prepping for raids. Even for non raiders stuff like this adds value. First it adds income from the world, I HATE QUESTING INCOME, it creates inflation and is boring and it's another post. This is wealth transfer from rich guilds to poor players. 2nd, it makes the world seem populated because you have a reason to be in these lower level areas, or at least travel through them. I used to make a daily visit to the wellspring in Stranglethorn for the free 400? health thing you could get. Sometimes I would drop in the arena, sometimes I would join the continuous brawl near the river, sometimes I'd try and bait horde players into attacking me in town.

The point is I was out in the world, doing shit other than farming a daily quest for 15g+rep. I'm not saying I want old paladin buffs. I remember raiding with a friends guild, once before I knew what the frick to do and once after I was a "raider". Holy balls of fire they were bad and the buff system killed them. So slow they had to stop and rebuff every 2 pulls which slowed them down even more... but there is a fine line where convenience turns to 1button boring flavorless bland mush.

Story time! I haven't played wow in 5 months, haven't healed in a real raid since paladin healing involved down rank spells. Have done some tanking/lfr healing in cata. Logged in last night. Respec'd my paladin for heals, didn't google or do anything, asked in general got no response about what to do.

Healed an instance with no deaths, I was out of mana a lot, could't find some spells that used to exist and had some issues. But one of the fights I got locked out of the room and healed the tank by healing myself and using beacon to heal him (or at least I think I did) and you know what, he lived, they lived.

This is bland, when you need no knowledge to do succeed it's not hard enough.

Dàchéng said...

On the subject of "no-brainers", it's rarely that simple. Talarian asked, for instance, "How is remembering or not remembering to stock up on reagents or arrows an interesting choice?
"

But that isn't the choice anyone was faced with. It was this: "Hmm, I'm low on reagents/arrows. Should I stop what I'm doing now to go back to town and replenish them, or carry on and replenish them at a more natural break in my adventuring, risking that I might run out before then?". Then later "Should I buy 10 stacks of reagents/arrows so I don't run out soon or should I buy less so I have more space in my bags for loot?"

To the player who faced these dilemmas, they were minor but interesting choices, and they were faced regularly. To the players who didn't even notice they were low on reagents/arrows until they were out of them, it was a hint to their fellow adventurers that perhaps they couldn't always be relied on in a sticky situation, and allowed those fellow adventurers to make their own interesting choice.

Lowtec said...

The word to emphasize in the Sid Meier quote is "interesting". And in that regard I disagree with Dacheng.

For me the decisions to restock reagents/arrows/pet food were never interesting. There were interesting parts of it, like e.g. to use the expensive crafted arrows (you still remember those?) in a fight instead of the vendor arrows. Maybe those could have been implemented without the hassle of restocking. Although for this example I can't come up with a way how.

Restocking and similar activities were more of a chore list to work off than decisions to make.

Balkoth said...

First of all, stuff like arrows isn't a choice, it's a calculation. There's clearly a right way (have arrows) and wrong way (don't have arrows). A choice indicates multiple outcomes that each have a different appeal.

"This is bland, when you need no knowledge to do succeed it's not hard enough."

You were in an easy dungeon (I automatically know this is true because you got in there via LFD). You're basically complaining the easy parts of the game aren't hard?

"But that isn't the choice anyone was faced with."

Yes, it was. It was "Hey, it's raid time, guess I should restock for the night - sir, I'll take 5000 arrows, 1500 holy symbols, and 972 candles."

"For me the decisions to restock reagents/arrows/pet food were never interesting. There were interesting parts of it, like e.g. to use the expensive crafted arrows (you still remember those?) in a fight instead of the vendor arrows. Maybe those could have been implemented without the hassle of restocking. Although for this example I can't come up with a way how."

Exactly.

The problem in this case, of course, is that the result would be that everyone would be expected to use the best ammo all the time (on boss fights, at least). The only way to avoid that would be to make the arrows horrendously expensive and thus makes hunters save them for the toughest fights - but even then, guilds would expect hunters to use the best ones all the time on progression.

This kind of choice doesn't really work in a world with unlimited quantities from vendors and dozens to hundreds of attempts on raid boss.

Talarian said...

I think that a lot of good points have been made, but ultimately Balkoth verbalized my point. Mundane ammunition was already effectively infinite in supply. Ultra-cheap, plentiful, and you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a vendor who sold it (and it would be worse now, with vendor mounts, or engineering bots, etc.). Because there was no danger of it running out, it is not interesting to track. It's just a tax or maintenance cost at that point (I.e.: 1 minute of attacking costs me 1s30c).

Let me use a different example to illustrate my viewpoint. I GM roleplaying games, such as D&D, and have done so for a good 15 years. Micro immersion, such as tracking mundane ammo, or remembering to eat in-game, in my mind take away from the more fun aspect. Which is encounters with NPCs, combat and non-combat. You still have opportunities for breaks, as selling and buying are important too, but as long as you're within easy reach of a town, vendor, or a method to create more ammunition, there's not much point to tracking it.

Now, magical ammunition, or if you're in an extremely long dungeon (think a desert. Or the Underdark), and suddenly ammo, food, water, light, and so on become incredibly interesting, because they can run out. Survival in those situations absolutely comes down to your limited resources.

That being said, I think there certainly is a market for micro immersion. I mean, Ren Faires are a great example of that, where people mimic even the most minute details of the time period. But that's the point of Ren Faires. The great thing about a game like D&D is your group can tailor "the point" of the game, and if micro immersion is truly your idea of a good time, track away. In a game like WoW, a theme park MMO, with, as Balkoth says, unlimited supply of mundanes and tonnes of attempts on bosses, tracking mundane ammo doesn't seem like a compelling point because realistic immersion isn't the point of WoW.

As a slight aside, I do agree wholeheartedly with Rohan about levelling and talents. The old talent tress sucked at max level, and I prefer the new ones, because it's all the choice with none of the filling, but levelling up not having those small choices makes levelling dull, and each level that doesn't give you a new ability feels sad.

Talarian said...

I would actually go so far as to make it a game design theory:

A resource is meaningful for a given unit of time if and only if the resource can be exhausted in that given unit of time.

(Pretty sure I wouldn't be the first to come up with that idea, either). Ammunition is just another resource. You run out, you can't attack. If you run out of Focus, you can't attack. Run out of mana, can't cast spells.

An example where the resource isn't useful to track include healer mana in Wrath. As a Holy Paladin, the only decision was to spam Holy Light on the tank, our biggest heal, and you'd never run out of mana. Mana wasn't a meaningful resource for Holy Paladins in Wrath.

Another example is Enhancement Shaman today. If you're just performing your rotation, you'll never run out of mana. However, if you stop your rotation and start spamming heals, you will run out of mana, so therefore it is actually a meaningful resource.

Focus for Hunters can be exhausted. Spam a few abilities and you find yourself quickly out of Focus. Granted, it regenerates quickly, but the resource exhausted for that short period of time acted as a limiter.

So for ammunition, at what time period does it finally become a meaningful resource if you have like 3000 arrows? Certainly not a single combat, or even a single dungeon. Perhaps 2 - 3 hours, or more of gameplay time? If you want to argue that it's a worthwhile mechanic in-game to have someone go buy 3000 arrows for like 50s every 3 hours, by all means, argue away, and we'll just have to agree to disagree, but that doesn't feel like compelling gameplay to me.

Balkoth said...

Exactly, Talarian. And I find it hard to believe people find arrows immersive when we're buying over 3000 of them at a time.

Josh said...

Ammo may not be a shining example of a meaningful choice but I do think WoW had engaged in a slippery slope since TBC.

In isolation it might be easy to say that design element "X" is uninteresting and must be sanded away. Doing so for the most egregious examples might even be appropriate.

But, every choice (no matter how mundane) is an opportunity to express free will. Yes, it may be a trope, but it's not for nothing that free will is a central tenet of most major religions. There is something about it that resonates with humans.

Put slightly another way, reminiscing on dumb mistakes we once made as noobs is a common way to share our experiences. When the only choices left are ones that can't be wrong then we lose this experience.

Sand away too many choices and you sand away the good and the bad of free will. WoW feels far more "hollow" to me than it did in TBC. I think this is a factor of product managers or game designers with good intentions missing the cumulative weight of hundreds of small efficiencies.

--Trixie

Balkoth said...

"Yes, it may be a trope, but it's not for nothing that free will is a central tenet of most major religions."

Probably a derail, but I thought most major religions had an all-knowing God/Allah/Yahweh/etc with a special plan for each of us and thus no free will.

"Put slightly another way, reminiscing on dumb mistakes we once made as noobs is a common way to share our experiences. When the only choices left are ones that can't be wrong then we lose this experience."

You don't think plenty of those still remain? I've seen new players questing at level 35 in Duskwood (a level 20-25 zone). I see people who have no idea what a gem, enchant, reforge, or role (DPS/tank/healer) are.

90% of people in LFR have no idea what stats their character wants or how to use their abilities effectively. So many people still turn with their keyboard or don't keybind.

How many dumb mistakes need to exist?

Josh said...

"Probably a derail, but I thought most major religions had an all-knowing God/Allah/Yahweh/etc with a special plan for each of us and thus no free will."

Most Christians would argue that without free will sin isn't really a thing you can prevent. A derail though as the the point I was getting at is the amount of ink spilled by philosophers, theologians, and authors spent thinking about the conflict between omniscience and free will. Humans definitely spend a great deal of time wanting to be free agents and trying to convince ourselves that we are.

"You don't think plenty of those still remain? I've seen new players questing at level 35 in Duskwood (a level 20-25 zone). I see people who have no idea what a gem, enchant, reforge, or role (DPS/tank/healer) are."

Reasonable people can differ here depending on what they want from a gaming experience. And, the line is definitely gray. I don't think there is a game-design "law" that can lead to a good outcome. It is very much one of judgment and product vision.

I don't envy game designers today. Easy access to information on the web and the constant drive for efficiency forces players to do strange things. Designers, rightfully, want their customers to spend time doing fun stuff and not alt-tabbed reading up on "what to do".

Nonetheless (for my money) the experience feels too smooth, the treadmill of content too prefabricated to ensure the player never gets off the rails. Super optimized for trailing 7 or 30 day engagement and activity metrics. Very relevant when trying to reduce subscription churn. But in the process WoW has lost it's charm and some of its soul.

Balkoth said...

"Most Christians would argue that without free will sin isn't really a thing you can prevent."

Obviously - hence the whole predestination thing.

"Humans definitely spend a great deal of time wanting to be free agents and trying to convince ourselves that we are."

Some do, I'm not sure we can try to claim even a general percentage.

"Designers, rightfully, want their customers to spend time doing fun stuff and not alt-tabbed reading up on "what to do"."

Yeah, and then when the designer makes it so certain "choices" aren't traps people complain the game is being dumbed down. Like the talents in MoP - previously it was simply filling out a spreadsheet that someone else calculated or you were an idiot.

"Nonetheless (for my money) the experience feels too smooth, the treadmill of content too prefabricated to ensure the player never gets off the rails"

I'd still point to that level 35 in Duskwood. But here's a question - if you could change one to three things to bring back some of WoW's "charm" and "soul?"

Joseph Skyrim said...

Choices (regardless of size) are what make things interesting. The more things are automated/railroaded the less involved people feel.