Richard Garriott and the Harbingers of Failure
Nov 09, 2007 17:15:58

Richard GarriottA recent article in the New York Times Online ("An online-gaming pioneer is back, and this time he's banking on sci-fi" November 2, 2007) contained the following quote by Richard Garriott:
"As many kudos as I would like to give World of Warcraft, it's basically a remake of EverQuest, just incredibly polished and refined. There are harbingers of failure in that model. Everyone in these games is obsessed with the concept of how much damage-per-second they are inflicting and maximizing their DPS. When you do that, you are no longer playing a role; you are playing an inventory-management game." - Richard Garriott

Lately, there are times when talk about a game being "polished" reaches the point where it begins to fly in the face of reason and common sense. Such was the case, when Gods and Heroes, already in beta, was shelved for lack of "polish". The use of the latest industry buzz word has gone too far. When Rob Pardo delivered his "12 lessons learned from WoW" speech at the Austin Game Developers Conference, it is doubtful that he meant the application of the lesson to go as far as it has.

Still, Garriott is correct about one thing - the driving force behind World of Warcraft (WoW) has become "inventory management".

But this is far from being news. A game mechanic that continually dangles a new carrot in front of a player, in terms of better armor in WoW's case, is a common factor in just about every AAA MMO put on the shelves so far. A Zen/Existential approach to gaming is to point out that this particular game mechanic has no intrinsic value. Rather, it is the attitude of the players TOWARDS that game mechanic that gives it value - or in this case hurts the game. In other words, while the game mechanic may encourage the attitude, it is the players who are at fault. But you can't blame the average player too much on that point. Western society has been living by the attitude "the person who dies with the most toys wins" for at least the last hundred years.

As the old adage goes, "somebody should do something about it."

Someone needs to start a trend. Someone needs to change game design. By this I mean change the basic mechanics of how a game is played. Someone needs to change the need to spam "looking for healer, looking for tank". Someone needs to stop the need for specific classes of players to run an instance (read: "unneeded character classes need not apply"). Why change game mechanics?

Simple...

...because no one, and I mean BUT NO ONE is ever going to change the way players react to a game mechanic. It is just basic human nature (that alone is sort of a sad comment on western society). So the game mechanic has to change instead. That someone may just be Richard Garriott - after all, that man is GOOD at pioneering game mechanics. Not long ago, PC Gamer featured a series of articles by prominent game developers called "The Game Whisperers". The following quote is from that series:
"The problem, as I see it, is that this style of combat [turn bases server side calculations] results in players manically managing their 'Damage Over Time' value to the point that that part of our vernacular, DOT, becomes the primary goal of advancement. I feel this has nothing to do with true role-playing or immersion in the world...rather, it is a data management game. I have always felt we as an industry could do much better! And while other areas in online MMO gaming have made radical advancements in areas like graphics and animation, the combat system has stagnated." - Fixing the Fight, by Richard Garriott

So what does Garriott offer in place of this system? How does he propose to do things differently? He proposes server side combat calculations that take into account interaction with the environment. Here, in a quote from "Fixing the Fight" is what Garriott has to say, including why he thinks this particular change is so important:
"What I feel is most needed in the MMO gaming industry with regard to combat is innovation that makes combat more engaging and less like inventory management for the player. I believe it is possible to make an MMO combat system that provides engagement with the 3D world and encourages using tactical strategy against your opponent's actions." - Richard Garriott

Will this revolutionize the MMO industry by itself? In a word - no. But it may just be the spark that ignites the fire that sets the MMO industry on its ear. Could ignoring the factor eventually bring the 800 pound Blizzard gorilla to its knees? Maybe. Think of the old story about the kingdom lost for want of a horse shoe nail - for want of a horseshoe nail the horseshoe was lost. For want of the horseshoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the king was lost. For want of the king the kingdom was lost. And all for want of a horseshoe nail. Consider then what it is that made WoW so incredibly successful...
"Wow scaled such heights largely because it abandoned genre conventions that penalized casual players. In fact, WoW is actually a better single-player RPG than many true single-player RPGs: It has reasonable system requirements, allows solo players to prosper, focuses on quest-based gameplay instead of requiring players to tediously camp for respawning monsters, and it rewards players who only have a limited time to play be giving them 'resting bonuses,' thus making character leveling easier than just about any MMO before it." - "Blizzard's perfect storm" by Desslock, PC Gamer

The virtual carrot of better armor and better DPS can only string the average gamer along for so long. The game Blizzard brings us between levels 1-70 are still known for that accessibility for which WoW is famous. But the end game has long since stopped being friendly to the casual player - even Jeff Kaplan, Lead Designer for WoW has stated the lack of accessibility in The Burning Crusade was a big mistake.

So is Richard Garriott telling us that Tabula Rasa will take down WoW? Heck no. He does seem to think, however, that if things at Blizzard Entertainment remain on a steady course that it will be a case of "give them enough rope and they will eventually hang themselves." Does Garriott think that Tabula Rasa will set the industry on its ear all by itself? I don't think so. Here is what he has to say:
"I feel strongly that combat systems of the future will incorporate a lot of the innovations we are attempting with Tabula Rasa. I hope it will also ignite a spark of innovation in the minds of game developers, inspiring them to take the next step toward revitalizing the combat systems in our games." - Richard Garriott

Is there a good chance that Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa is the tiny spark that changes the industry?

Heck ya.

See you online,

- Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on Nov 09, 2007 17:15:58 CST (comments: 4)


Comments:


'I call his bluff' by hallower
Submitted on 2007-11-10 00:24:48 CST
"I feel this has nothing to do with true role-playing or immersion in the world..." --Garriott

Nor does hiding the numbers and leaving players watching their ability timers and health bars, employing the same series of hotkey commands that work against most enemies.

Don't get me wrong. I think Tabula Rasa is a step in the right direction. But it's a small step... probably too small to have much of an impact on the genre. I doubt it's that spark, but I hope you're right.



'what bluff?' by Sente
Submitted on 2007-11-10 09:58:08 CST

Have you played the game and played it after release, Hallower?

The basic mechanics are there to allow for a gameplay that is less focused on pushing the same buttons at all times, both in terms of weapon behaviour and properties as well as mob behaviour and properties.

The next step is balancing the different mobs and properties so that considering all of these properties will make a difference and finding a reasonable level. For some time in beta, the game was too easy. They have adjusted that now. Handling 2-3 trash mobs will generally never be a problem anyway, like minions in City of Heroes/VIllains. It is other combinations that present more challenges and it also depends on your career choice.

It is definitely not perfect and there could certainly be more work done in that direction, but I think it is definitely a step in the right direction and may have a reasonable impact of the game does well.



'Step In The Right Direction for MMOs' by dominici
Submitted on 2007-11-10 23:42:08 CST
I kind of agree with Garriot, in the sense that the two things I like about Tabula Rasa is that my battles are more than just click and watch the DOTs ensue; and the other thing, the main thing, is that I don't have to take up a craft in order to support myself in this world! I know for some it's fun to bog themselves down in spreadsheet and profit margins and auctions and such, but for me, storyline and action are the way to go!


'The guy who people love to hate' by Julie
Submitted on 2007-11-13 21:26:14 CST
Richard Garriott often seems like the guy some people just love to hate. There is a sector of the authors who write about the mmo industry who would slam Garriott even if he could prove he invented the discovered silicon, designed the microchip and was the first person to think to sell bread already sliced.

The fact remains, no matter what someone may or may not think about his latest game -Tabula Rasa - is that Richard Garriott is an inovator. He is, after all, one of the people who established the industry in the first place.

The fact also remains that even if the rest of the gamer were garbage, his assessment about what WoW (and for that matter many other mmos) have become is an inventory management system. ONE of the factors that is at the core of this problem is the way combat is designed to take place in MMOs.

No matter who hates Garriott or loves him - the idea of trying to change the way combat is done is an important first step. It is a tiny spark that I truly hope will change the way game mechanics work in the first place.

Thanks for all the great comments

Julie




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