Disclaimer: The views of the writer in no way match the views of rest of the Lore Hound crew. In fact, they are just as disturbed by this post as you are.
People like to dabble in role-playing, right? We automatically assume certain roles in our day-to-day interactions, we occasionally imagine ourselves as different characters living in fictional universes, we role-play during sex… and where was I? Oh yes, role-playing.
Today, I’m going to role-play an armchair game designer. And not just any game designer, but a jaded, angry, border-line maniacal fellow who wants to bludgeon you with a vicious-ass trout. Get ready because this is going to be a rant of sorts, and boy, do I have an axe to grind.
Recently, a number of gaming-related portals have posted PvP Impressions for Star Wars: the Old Republic. Turns out, the new mechanics in the game allow fights to last longer due to a lack of burst damage at mid-levels, an anti-crowd control measure for each class and an unusual approach to tanking. With regards to the latter, in most MMORPGs, the various taunts and aggro-related skills for tanks only work in PvE, with no consequence for enemy players. However, SW:TOR’s PvP mechanics make active use of those skills by having a slightly different effect. A taunted player, for example, will do -50% less damage to everyone besides the person who put the effect on him. Another example is the guard ability, which will allow tanks to take damage instead of enemies.
SWTOR seems to be taking a page from Warhammer Online, which has made use of some of the mentioned tanking mechanics for PvP. There is ‘nothing’ wrong in borrowing good ideas from other sources, provided they can be implemented into your game, right? Right. What really strikes me as odd are the people writing about their SW:TOR experience and commenting how fresh these mechanics felt. Come again?
One of the grand-daddies of MMORPGS, Everquest came out in 1999. That’s more than ten years ago, and the fact that, today, we are applauding a slight variation to combat mechanics presented back then, just shows how astonishingly confused and empty of creativity this industry has become under the iron rule of corporations. Oh there are some exceptions, sure, but a truly successful indie MMORPG-project is still an anomaly of sorts. I can already hear you guys saying – hey, that EVE game…you know it has over 300k subs, right? That’s correct, but you know what? After EVE Online, there is a real f’ing drop off in paying players who regularly contribute to niche MMORPGs.
Back to the soul-less feces of giant multinationals shoved down our throats every day (let the image sink in). I honestly don’t know of any other part of the entertainment industry where this sort of staleness is the norm and simply accepted. If comic books never introduced different heroes and types of characters, then there wouldn’t be the successful industry we have today. If every fantasy book followed the same tired formula, then the potential readership base would quickly diminish. Yet, here we are in the MMOG-land, where if you take a screenshot from one game, you might not even recognize it in comparison with its closest rivals.
So, whenever I see a game developer discussing in an interview how much creativity and inspiration they’ve put into the latest WoW clone, I’m torn between wanting to shove a pencil in my eye or reaching for that brutal trout again and bashing people over the head with it.
Let us re-iterate. We’ve come from a standard combat mechanic used in MMORPGs to a standard combat mechanic used in MMORPGs with a few tweaks, ten years later. A feature that should have been a logical step in the evolution of the genre ten years ago, if the publishers didn’t get hold of it and attempted to profit from a growing market with a tired old formula. The same principle applies to the effort to inject more story elements in to our MMOGs with cut-scenes and voice-overs – something that could have been done much earlier if the big corporations truly wished to deviate from the trends set by predecessors.
What’s next? Are we still going to applaud a fairly recent introduction of a more action-orientated combat experience? OH, WAIT. Yet another natural step in the development of the genre has been hindered by companies not willing to take a risk with a new type of combat system as soon as the technology allowed them to do so. It feels like non-target games have come to our attention only a short time ago, especially for Western audiences.
We seem to be willing to accept this situation. Oh, people grumble on forums how SW:TOR and other titles aren’t bringing anything new to the table, how they are clones of that other game, how we need to see more innovation and how blah blah blah…And if you think this article is a jab specifically at BioWare’s title, then read it again.
The point is, gamers will pay for these games and they’ll play them, at least for those initial months after launch. By doing that, they will re-enforce the trend over and over again. We can’t seem to help it, humans are one hell of a curious species. However, it wouldn’t hurt to keep in mind where our collective ‘meh’ can take the industry. To paraphrase one famous author – creatures, whose mainspring is curiosity, enjoy the accumulation of experiences far more than the pause needed to reflect on those experiences and their repercussions.
Over and out.