Monday, July 29, 2013

Small Decisions

I've been thinking about reagents and arrows lately. They're basically gone from the modern game. They were seen as trivial and obvious, an inconvenience to be smoothed away. However, I'm wondering if we lost something in doing that.

Arrows and reagents were a small test of ... skill, I guess. A good hunter kept her stock of arrows up, and refreshed it regularly. Same with reagents. I remember keeping three stacks of the reagents for Blessings on me at all times. This wasn't a very hard test, of course. Most people did this. (Though there were a few who didn't, who never had enough reagents.)

Reagents were a "small" decision. You had to make the decision to restock every so often, had to evaluate your supply against the demands on your time. It wasn't a difficult decision at all, but still a decision that all players had to make.

There were many of these small decisions in Vanilla. Soul shards, poisons, feeding your pets, talent points, etc. Even going back to a trainer when you leveled was a small decision. You had to decide whether to stop questing and get the new abilities right away, or wait for a natural break.

Most decisions in WoW now are "big" decisions. Choosing a specialization, choosing talents, using the correct abilities. There are fewer small decisions and more big decisions.

Was there value in having those small decisions?

I think that it was part of mastering your class. You get the small decisions down before having to tackle the larger ones. Almost everyone got them right, and it was the first thing to learn when playing.

To a good experienced player those small decisions are obvious and trivial. The only interesting decisions are the big ones. But big decisions are rare. Fewer decisions make for a less interesting game. You can see this in WoW leveling. All those small decisions that you used to make while leveling have been smoothed away. But a game with few decisions to make is not interesting at all.

18 comments:

Carson 63000 said...

You're right that this wasn't a very hard test, and that most people did this - but it was always the same people who didn't, wasn't it? And there were always certain people that you knew you could rely on to be prepared, right?

I agree that it was part of mastering your class, and I kind of miss it too.

Talarian said...

Sid Meier's famous quote comes to mind here: "A game is a series of interesting choices."

How is remembering or not remembering to stock up on reagents or arrows an interesting choice?

On the other hand, if they had expanded the ammo system to have different types of ammunition that did different things, then it would certainly be more interesting, but that can be streamlines to stances (or to how poisons work on rogues today).

I suppose there's something to be said for "realism", but personally I've never felt that realism had any place in a world with magic and dragons. One can easily wave away not carrying ammunition to being "Hunters have magical quivers filled with arrows that never runs out."

Balkoth said...

Stocking up on ammunition makes sense in a game where ammunition is supposed to be a resource that matters - think Legend of Zelda where you had a limited number of shots and could only use it in certain situations. In WoW, it's the Hunter's primary attack - so you'd buy 2000 and then generally ignore how many you had. There's no sense of "Ranged attacks are very powerful but I can only use them sparsely."

Ditto on the reagents - if the reagents were actually limited and using them was supposed to be a tactical choice they would make sense. But they weren't - running out just meant you were an idiot.

gamingsf said...

I miss these little details, especially where meaningful choices were involved - e.g. did you buy the vendor bought ammo for convenience or get the player crafted ammo which was slightly better?

Perhaps I'm just a grognard, but this is one of the reasons why I'm *loving* EQ2 at the moment. It has all the RPG crunchy stuff that WoW has removed. It's like playing vanilla/TBC WoW but with better crafting and housing...

Milady said...

Balkoth is right regarding the reason why those resources whose scarcity matters, and why arrows and reagents are more of a chore than an interesting decision. Often in terror games they make it so that ammo is not abundant and you have to actually decide whether to engage with guns, or with white weapons, or to run. In the case of MMOs, this doesn't apply.

It is not because they provide interesting small decisions (I don't see what you are deciding, if that resource is unlimited and only requires you to, upon commencing the game session, buy a batch of it), it is because they signify something in the way of immersion and worldliness. I agree that some reagents needed to be cut out (like the hundreds of holy candles or whatever that was that you used to bless as a paladin), but some others made sense and created interesting situations in themselves (such as not having the symbol of divinity to sacrifice yourself for another player), and they communicated some lore as an item that was conductor of your power.

What they culled out of those small decisions that I feel impacted the immersion most was the disappearance of the care-taking aspect of owning a pet as a hunter. I remember starting out as a hunter and catching a wolf after having discarded my initial pet, only to find out that I had nothing to give it because it ate meat and I had stocked on fish. I went out of my way to do some boar killing just to have the wolf happy. It made us bond in a small, special way.

Justin said...

Sid Meier quote from Talarian is 100% wrong, heck it's even wrong in his own games. Civ/Railroad Tycoon/Pirates are incredibly long series of tiny, basically uninteresting choices with a few hugely important choices woven in. The product is a compelling tapestry of basically meaningless or interchangeable threads.

Arrows, soul shards, reagents and farming dark runes in Vanilla connected your character to the world. You moved around the world, going back to Scholo for runes, out in the badlands killing endless level 52 mobs for soul shards and got groups together to go due Dire Maul because you needed the stamina drink.

These small decisions, little choices made everyday connected you more to the world far more than go to the same 10 quest givers every morning to run some random selection of samey quests for a little gold and rep.

Skyrim isn't immersive because of the interesting choices (magic or stealth, heavy armor or cloth) it's immersive because of the completely uninteresting choices of how do I run to that new dungeon entrance, do I try and find a path over the mountain or take the long way around? Do I jump and scurry across ledges or give up and go down? This is something, incidentally, that WoW has managed to completely remove with the combination of teleports to everything + flying mounts. I was super excited to not have a flying mount in pandaria till I realized you still got dungeon teleports, unlike in cata where you had to find them first, and pandaland was so linear I didn't feel the desire to explore at all.

WoW is an example of what happens when you take all the little brush strokes from a painting, while leaving behind the broad swatches of color. It might be an impressionist masterpiece but it's not as immersive, nor does it tell the compelling story of vanilla/bc.

Example: Marshall windsor questline. Freaking so long, so many little parts you went everywhere/talked to everyone. If you had to grind it in an afternoon to join a guild I'm sure it sucked. But if you did it naturally as questing or found it in the wild long before you knew what raiding was it formed an amazing series of little strokes connecting you to so many locations.

rimecat said...

Memories of MC in Vanilla. Three stacks of candles for my Priest and another for the guy who is certain to "forget" to hit the vendor. That's actually a good memory, strange as it may seem.

Over all, Justin is correct. The ammo and reagent system isn't about difficult choices it is about immersion. As WoW evolved away from its RPG roots toward becoming a mass-market computer game with RPG-like elements it started stripping those parts of the game. This, I think, is at the core of the arguments some people have with Ghostcrawler over preferring Vanilla or TBC. Those of us on the nostalgia train want to have to engage with the world to do things that are trivial but add to the life of the character. That does not, and will not, appeal to someone who wants to log-in at raid time and log-out when the raid leader calls it for the night. Blizzard is going to make a financially advantageous decision as to which group to favor and I don't think it will be those of use who like the small, immersive,details.

Balkoth said...

"That does not, and will not, appeal to someone who wants to log-in at raid time and log-out when the raid leader calls it for the night."

It's not even that, it's that I don't want to deal with resource management of something that is not supposed to be about resource management.

How is holding nearly 3000 arrows immersive (14 slot quiver would be 2800)? Or 100+ holy candles? Or a hunter carting around 100+ haunches of boar meat? The numbers are just ludicrous in terms of realism (or lack thereof specifically).

I'm happy to play other parts of WoW besides heroic raiding (well, I'm not happy about valor/charm chores, but I mean as a general principle) - but I don't think visiting a vendor each day to buy copious amounts of random doodads is compelling at all.

I love an old game called Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries: http://www.myabandonware.com/game/mechwarrior-4-mercenaries-3ak

The whole game is about resource management - you have to decide who to hire, what Battlemechs (war robots) to buy, what weapons to use, whether you needed certain weapons on a specific mission, whether you needed lots of ammo for an extended firefight or as much burst as possible, etc. And that's fun - BECAUSE the game is SUPPOSED to be about resource management. But if that game suddenly random had a quicktime event? That would NOT be fun. Nor is buying 3000 arrows fun in WoW.

Redbeard said...

When they changed Paladins for Cata, eliminating the various buffs for a generic buff, I was disappointed. I enjoyed making sure that I had Frost active when fighting Garfrost, or Fire active when running through Halls of Lightning. It wasn't a bit choice to be sure, but the little tweaks made a difference in a group that wasn't OP for the instance.

They got rid of the extended class quests, the various buffs, and the little stuff like reagents and bullets and arrows. As much as some people may say that it's not needed in a fantasy game, then why not eliminate food buffs? It just gets in the way, doesn't it? Why not have toons automatically provide you a buff when entering an instance? Why not have neverending buffs? Of better yet, why have buffs at all, and just incorporate them directly into the game.

Also, here's one question that nobody seems to mention: why aren't the bads USING the gear they drop? That was always one of the big milestones when someone was learning to DM back in the old days, learning that the monsters weren't simply carrying crates of ribbon wrapped gear around for you to loot, but that they actually used the stuff. Why don't MMOs do this?

Phelps said...

You are all missing the point. Arrows and reagents are all barriers to entry. They show a bare minimum of care and attention.

The corollary of "there were always certain people that you knew you could rely on to be prepared" was that there were also certain people who were chronically unprepared. If you think back a little harder, you will admit to yourself that these are also the people who were at the bottom of the damage meters, had the most overheal, stood in fire, went ninja AFK, etc etc.

Being unprepared was the biggest indicator that you were a poor player. That is why Blizz is getting rid of them. They are doing everything they can to let bad players hide and be carried.

Infamy.Deferred said...

As a counterpoint to Phelps's comment, I think there still exists a very simple metric for identifying players who just don't care - Gems and Enchants. I can't inspect a hunter before a raid to see if he bothered to bring enough arrows, but I can inspect his gear and see that he didn't spring for even green quality gems.

Removing some preparation does help some people who were chronically unprepared, yes... but surely there was a percentage of unprepared players who were simply busy or absent-minded, who at least felt bad when they ran out of reagents, who might be pretty decent players in a game with less trivial crap to remember?

I do agree though that the removal of all of thesejavascript:void(0) little systems has chipped away at the game's immersion level.

Joseph Skyrim said...

I too miss the arrow/ammo count. Loved going fully prepped with a few hundred arrows into a dungeon (weight consideration) then RUNNING OUT and having to switch to close quarters in UO. Good times.

I think the problem is that these later games don't really give players that choice. Like a ranger class does more damage with a bow, and all their attacks are arrow related - they cannot switch to use fists for some reason.

Stupid things like that make designers go... yep, infinite ammo.

Joseph Skyrim said...

Just as a note my above comment isn't really WoW specific, just general a musing. :)

Balkoth said...

"If you think back a little harder, you will admit to yourself that these are also the people who were at the bottom of the damage meters, had the most overheal, stood in fire, went ninja AFK, etc etc."

Then it didn't act as much of a barrier, did it? They got into the content and performed poorly. And we have plenty of other metrics to measure "badness" (including the gems/enchants thing).

typhoonandrew said...

While it added an element of flavour to the game (either you valued it or you didn't), it was one of the first things I got an AddOn to manage for me. Personally I didn't mined they were there, as I worked around the requirement.

Trivial menial tasks are suitable for automation, so an addon meant I always carried a preset "right" amount of them. Druid, Pally, and Warlock from Original game - all had things to manage and keep and I used addons to facilitate the management and remind me.

Azuriel said...

And I suppose you miss the days of 10-minute Blessings (or was it 5 minutes?) and having to recast Seals after every Judgment too?

I agree that consumables/reagents can bring immersion and connectiveness to a game world. I would strongly disagree, however, that they ever did so in WoW. Buying stacks and stacks of something from a vendor with infinite supply is not a "small choice" nor an interesting one: it is maintenance, book-keeping. If you forgot to bring some or did not bring enough, you Hearth'd back to town, loaded up, and got summoned back.

I also find it fairly bizarre that you consider things like reagents to be compelling "small choices" and then denigrate the leveling process, as if choosing where to level, which quests to take and which to skip, what order to do the quests in, how to kill certain mobs with what abilities, etc etc etc, is less meaningful than clicking on a vendor somewhere.

@Redbeard
As much as some people may say that it's not needed in a fantasy game, then why not eliminate food buffs?

Do they sell the food buffs at a vendor? No. See, that's actually a small choice that requires mental processing. Buy from AH at a huge mark-up, or farm your own mats? Or trade with guildmates? The raiding food-plates eliminated most of that, but you can see how Blizzard brought it back a bit in MoP with the highest tier of food buff coming in individual servings.

If ammo and reagents were like that, then I would agree it adds something to the immersion. Being able to write a macro or use an addon to bypass the "immersion" whenever you hit a vendor tells me that it wasn't all that immersive in the first place.

Redbeard said...

Azuriel, they don't sell the highest tier food buffs at a vendor, but they do sell some food buffs at a vendor.

My point is simple: if a game is supposed to be about interesting choices and people claim that arrows and bullets and reagents aren't interesting, what makes food buffs any different? It's a grind to get the stuff, or a grind to get the gold to buy the stuff, which isn't "interesting" to a lot of people. Just like bags; you can buy the (up to) 14 space bags at a vendor, or you can grind a lot and made your own, or pay high prices for something higher than 16 at the AH. (And grind to make the money for those bags.)

Me, I want bullets and arrows back. I want the skill levels for things like different weapons and for lockpicking back. I want people out in the world, working, rather than simply flying around or waiting for LFR. The game has gotten, well, lazy.

Elladrion said...

Redbeard, you just proved Azuriel's point. Bags are available form multiple scources. Do you get the small and cheap but readily available, the better but semi-expensive or shell out large sums of money for the top of the line bags? For food, do you get the vendor food buff just because you can grab it off an expedition yak, the banquet because you know somebody else is going to drop one or farm for the best? It's very much a deliberate choice, and it may seem clear to YOU what you will get but another player will have a very different conclusion. That is the GOOD kind of choice, both the food and the bags.

I agree that reagents and arrows were non-choices. Not even small decisions, just upkeep. They added a (VERY) small amount of immersion to the game, but I am glad to see them gone for the sake of streamlined play. Other things not so much, I do miss feeding my pet and leveling his happiness and loyalty, I feel the class is diminished for that loss. But not reagents. I hate that swapping glyphs and talents still costs reagents even though I have a yak and a traveler's mammoth that sell them any time I want. It's not a decision, it's not a choice, it's a "crap, I ran out and you can't mount here. gimme a sec to port out, guys" thing.

It's not interesting gameplay, It's not immersive gameplay, quite the opposite it always takes me completely out of whatever I was doing because it's so jarringly "behind the scenes" game-mechanic-ey. It feels very artificial, it feels very much like you're playing a game and not -in- a game. It interupts what I'm doing, and not even in a meaningful way. It takes only a moment to teleport out of a dungeon so I can mount up, open the vendor and port back in. Talk about breaking immersion: loading screen -> suddenly on another continent -> loading screen -> back in a dungeon. It becomes a minor annoyance instead of a choice, an option, a decision. It adds nothing to the game.