Archive for February, 2009

Enjoyment in Games

I recently wrote a comment that I never posted regarding some random complaining about “what was wrong with MMOs”.  During that response, I delved briefly into what makes games enjoyable, and I thought that was a topic worth expanding on.  So, in a post which may actually be read, I’m going to do just that.

Obviously, enjoyment is an aesthetic experience.  That being the case, high quality graphics and sound may equally be a part of an enjoyable experience.  Though perhaps I shouldn’t say high quality.  Rather, those aspects of presentation which are, for lack of a better word, attractive, induce enjoyment.  It seems to me that among game designers and the more long-time, hardcore crowd, there is a search for gameplay above all else.  I suspect the reason for that is because we are, in the end, talking about ‘games’, which are built on gameplay.  That doesn’t mean, though, that the rest is simple window dressing (and besides, dressed windows often add enjoyment to the view of whatever building they’re placed in).  Presentation is often everything.  It is the context within which your game world exists.  It helps establish and sell the rules by which it will be played, the mindset the player ought to adopt when engaging in it, the success and failure of their activity, the means of said success and failure, etc.  It is a key value when searching for enjoyment.

This is not to say that photo-realism, or as close as can be gotten, is thus necessary to  produce an enjoyable game.  However, I would suggest that a cohesive, beautiful aesthetic which fits the game world engenders an overall enjoyable experience.  I just can’t bring myself to play a game which is covered in shit, regardless of how good I hear the game play is.  I don’t really feel like subjecting my eyes to that.

Window dressing really can serve to make a game playable…I will sit and play through a game just to see the gorgeous screens, even with mediocre game play.

That said, have a good game beneath the pretty helps an awful lot.

Enjoyment in gameplay seems to me to be a function of novelty.  I’ve long contended that ‘game’ and ‘puzzle’ might be used interchangeably.  A game is built around an end state, a win condition (the objective old board game rule books used to list before even telling you how you could go about reaching said objective).  The game is started in an initial state, and the player may alter the initial conditions to move to another state.  The goal is to transform the initial state into a state such that it matches the objective list.  The enjoyment derived from a game seems to be proportional to the manner of success.

I’d like to interject that the proferred goal of the game, the sort of mandated win condition, need not be the success the player is striving for.  Success seems very obviously to be dependent upon the player’s perception of success.  That is, player’s define success to be what they’d like to see happen.  From that observation, we might note a very strong connection to the previous comments and posit that success is also an aesthetic experience.

It’s rather trivial to note that the “quality” of a game is subjective; that reviewer scores are a farcical effort to apply some number, which reeks of objectivity, to something which is inherently subjective.  However, I do think it is important to focus on the fact that gameplay enjoyment in any form, or more generally that the enjoyment of puzzles and their solving, is inherently an aesthetic phenomenon.

This implies that, among other things, novelty is important.  It also implies that quality of craftsmanship is important…that detail is important.

A state in a puzzle might be described as a collection of variable properties.  The win condition is characterized by certain values in (usually) a subset of those values.  This might be as simple as the start condition being the player character faced off against another character, each with various means of subtracting health from the other.  The win condition is reached when the player character’s opponent’s health is reduced to at or below 0.

In a simple game, we might say that there exists a single way to change state: press a button, and the opponent’s health declines.  The win condition is thus attained by repeatedly pressing the button.  The aesthetic appeal of such a game is limited, obviously…solving the puzzle is easily done.  In fact, I’d suggest that most players of such a game would have more fun attempting to find out if various non-explicit variables improve things.  That is, players would introduce a new success measure, which might be called quality of success.  These meta-goals arise out of the possibility of additional variables expanding the size of the path of states leading from the initial condition to the end condition.

And so we have a potential vector for examining the enjoyment players might derive from a game: how many paths exist from the initial condition to the end condition?  That is precisely equivalent to the number of possible solutions to a given puzzle.

However, I don’t think that’s enough to characterize the situation.  For instance, let me add another state variable to the fight above: movement.  A character may move left or right instead of reducing the opponent’s health.  Moving, however, has absolutely no impact on anything except the shape of the state tree.  With the addition of movement, the state tree becomes rather more complex.  However, little enjoyment has been added, I suspect.  I probably should restate that though.  I don’t want to really speak of tree complexity, as that isn’t a term we’ve introduced.  Instead, I should say that the addition of movement, as described above, increases the number of possible paths to the end condition to without upper bound.  How do we reconcile this dramatic increase in possible solutions with the intuitive concept that enjoyment would not be dramatically increased?

I would suggest that isomorphism of paths would be the key insight.  Any potential path involving movement leads to a resultant state which would be equivalent to a state involving 0 or more health declines without movement.  Those paths lead to end conditions which are isomorphic: the same in their features.  On this basis, I’d suggest that choices which lead to non-similar result states expand real path options, increase the number of variant solution paths, and therefore increase our enjoyment.

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WoW 3.1 has hit the PTR

I’m something of a theorycrafter, so wow patch notes generally move me to start attempting to analyze how the classes I play are about to change.

My main is a balance druid, so this patch has little impact on me so far. Faerie fire is getting changed so that it reduces armor by 5% rather than a flat amount. That change is inline with other armor reducing ability changes, and is mostly pvp related (the efficacy of additional armor decreases in proportion to how much you have already, so reducing armor by a flat amount hurts clothies more than plate wearers…which seems sadistic).

Owlkin Frenzy was nerfed so it only procs from physical attacks. Currently, it’s a viable talent for pve content, particularly boss fights with massive raid damage. With this change, it’ll be relatively useless for group content, relegating it to purely PvP moonkins.

More interesting are changes to Paladins. Prot paladins got a giant makeover for some odd reason. PvE prot now gets a lower stun CD, a silence, permanent divine plea, and improved threat from exorcism now being castable on everything. They did receive a damage nerf to 3 core abilities (30% damage lost), but those core abilities all received damage increases…so I’m not sure if this is a nerf, evens out, or what. Either way, I expect exorcism to make up for the loss.

Retribution got the shaft. Several talents were reduced to 3 points from 5, and all lost some of their bonus damage. Exorcism was changed so it could be cast on any mob type, which was supposed to keep ret damage competitive when they moved on from pure undead (Naxx). However, coupled with a sudden damage nerf to core talents…it feels like Blizzard missed something.

Perhaps they are attempting to compensate for a new glyph which increases exorcism damage by 20% (it used to add a silence). If so, they apparently expect all ret paladins to have a cookie cutter glyph build involving glyph of judgement, glyph of consecration, and glyph of exorcism. Since that rules out Glyph of Seal of Command, they also intend for ret paladins to rely solely on seal of blood/the martyr (a really shittily designed seal, imo).

On top of this, they freed up some talent points for ret…which would normally be a good thing, except there aren’t any solid pve talents to put them in that would really benefit ret. I suspect prot is in a similar position.

For all the fury warriors out there: Titan’s Grip now reduces total physical damage you deal 10%. You knew it was coming.

Enhancement received some changes, which may cause me to return to my enhance shaman and pull him up to 80. First, mana returns are even higher, with Imp. SS returning 20% base mana per SS.  From my own experience this will help me out, potentially allowing me to shift entirely to lightning shield while levelling.  I’m not sure how replenishment improved regen with Lightning Shield, so this might have next to know impact on raiding enhancement.  This change does nerf SS damage, because improved SS used to reduce the CD by 2 seconds.  I can see some shammies dropping the talent completely if they aren’t mana-constrained.

Additionally, Unleashed Rage got a major buff, being reduced to 3 points, and increasing agility by 3%, on top of the raid-wide 10% AP increase.

The new Frozen Power talent reeks of PvE, since frostbrand probably gains from SP, while WF gains from AP and weapon damage.

I suspect that the two extra points from Unleashed rage will be dumped into Elemental for improved damage on maelstrom procs and shocks…the end result ought to be a DPS increase in raids.

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I promise, a big long post is coming. I’ve just been busy with work and games. Particularly, Dawn of War 2’s release and awesome single-player campaign has completely swamped my free time.

Well, completely awesome except for bosses with 80,000 health. To put that into perspective, my main character has a touch over 400 health. Yes, the boss has 2 orders of magnitude more health, and one-shots all my squads. Beating it required excessive amounts of running away.

I can forgive this, however, because Diablo with Space Marines is pure sex.

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Dawn of War II

I’ve been playing a great deal of Dawn of War II.  It’s a great take on RTS mechanics, and is currently in a free multi-player beta stage.  I highly recommend grabbing Steam and checking it out.

If you’re already playing, the patch notes for the retail patch have been made available here.

More detailed thoughts on the patch…

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I’d like to take some time to discuss the origin of the title of the blog: the World of Discourse.  While this obviously has a few rather mundane meanings, when I use the phrase here, I’m referring to a particular epistemological construct I developed in college, which I have since somewhat refined.

Giant wall of text after the jump

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I am beginning a blog.  You might have noticed.

Apparently, the blog will involve ‘pressing words’.  Perhaps this is what happens when there is no ink to help buffer the words from the immense force of the printer.

Anyway, I rather think a sort of introduction is needed.  Perhaps not to me, as I’m really quite irrelevant in this, but to the blog and its intent.  As any blog is, this is a repository of ruminations I think are worth sharing.  It serves multiple purposes, such as recording thoughts for personal posterity, expressing ideas for discussion, ranting about world-threatening things, like video game balance and the lack of reasonable discourse on topics of matter in the past century of metaphysical discussion, and for simply being an additional method of social interaction, beyond facebook and myspace and twitter…somewhere for more meaningful and SLOW discussion.

I believe that makes it a magisterial self-advertisement.

So welcome to the place wherein my thoughts enjoy dominance!

(Also, I don’t always write like this.  In fact, I have the stylistic consistency of an ADD schizophrenic on meth).

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