Theorycrafting – Humor is serious business – The Value Of Humor In Videogame Narrative

Now I have always believed that narrative is not a vital component in videogames but for some people, narrative can be the driving force of a game. I would argue however that games are not the best platform to deliver a narrative experience and that to properly execute a meaningful story in a videogame, it is highly recommended that its serious themes are accompanied with comic relief.

People play videogames to be rewarded and while a serious narrative can be engaging to some, it can become quite overbearing for others to the point that it can become tedious. Unlike movies, videogames are built around not only their narrative but also the gameplay. As such the narrative often takes a backseat in most cases. However it is important to remember that the narrative serves as a rewarding element and if you choose to cater to players desiring this rewarding element, you need to understand the value of humor because players do not play videogames for the narrative, the narrative acts as a reward to the player.

As such the narrative needs to be concise, it needs to be brief but most importantly, it needs to be enjoyable. If a game’s narrative focuses too much on its serious themes, the story can quickly become convoluted, this is because narrative that is too serious will often fail to grab the attention of readers due to the fact that there is no shift in tone, making the story feel repetitive. Because of this, impatient readers will be unable to take in all the information, thus missing out important details which leads to them becoming lost in the narrative and this leads to them becoming bored very quickly.

There is a fine line between writing for a videogame and writing a book. Both require a completely different approach. As books are written with the intent of connecting readers to an imaginary world, it is important to go into as much detail as possible to describe each scenario in order to paint a clear picture in the minds of the reader.

In most cases, it is also important for a book to remain consistent in its theme as a believable world is a lot easier to connect with. For this reason, the inclusion of humor in some cases would be out of the question because humor is not the primary focus of the narrative nor is it a critical component of the narrative. A book that revolves around comedy specifically would serve a completely different purpose however, such books do not focus on connectivity, rather they focus on amusing the reader, as such these books would require a completely different approach entirely, much like a different style of game would.

One thing that both books and movies have in common is that their stories are a strictly linear experience where nothing can be hidden from the reader, as such there aren’t as many methods to conveying a story in books and graphic novels as there are in videogames. I would argue however that this limitation is what brings the best out of books as in order for them to stand out, they need to be well written or else they will fade into obscurity.

Since games are illustrated and have interactive elements that allow players to have more control over their experience, they do not need to rely on descriptive writing and often encourage players to discover the story for themselves through interaction, hence why talking to non playable characters in towns has become a commodity in RPG’s. This means that a varied style of narrative is plausible and in most cases critical as there is a lot more room for content. However videogames have another role to fill, engaging the player. To do this requires a strong, varied narrative that can be picked up quickly without players having to invest too much time into it beforehand.

The reason why many gamers consider character development to be critical to providing a strong narrative is simply due to the fact that videogame narrative needs to play out at a much faster pace than that of a book. While I have always disputed the importance of character development in videogame stories, I can easily argue that character development isn’t as important in books, in fact you could also argue that it’s not even needed.

The difference between reading a book and reading text off a screen might not seem like much on the surface but when you consider the people consuming the medium in which the text is written for, you will realize that they are both completely different. Books attract a fairly niché audience, usually introverted people looking to connect themselves to a world where they can take a backseat. Videogames on the other hand attract all kinds of different people, not all are patient enough to play through a long, detailed narrative and as such, videogame narrative should be catered with these people in mind as focusing on a niche would actually be a bad idea. Why is this? Because you aren’t writing a book, you’re making a game and games are meant to be played. The gameplay is a big factor and cannot be ignored, by catering your narrative to a wide audience, you can instead focus your gameplay on a specific niche. See what I’m getting at?

This is where my theory comes in. While it is not wrong for games to be serious or comical, too much of it can make for a very stale narrative. Unlike books where there is room for detail so that players can connect themselves to the story easier, in videogames there is not. This is because narrative is broken into chunks that are separated by the gameplay. These chunks serve as a reward for the player, the carrot on the stick you could say. As such the reward needs to be valuable. In a book, you aren’t reading to be rewarded and the narrative is not broken up, so you keep reading on.

Because of this games need to break up each individual chunk of narrative in a way that prevents it from getting stale so that players want to see more. Humor is a great way to spice things up and keep things varied so that the player can easily become engaged in the narrative. In fact I would argue that Humor is often critical in videogame storytelling, at least to some degree.

While some games get away without having much humor such as Warcraft 3, they still have the occasional quirky moment that keeps players on their toes when consuming the narrative.

Other games such as Grandia 2 have a great balance of both humor and serious moments that make for a very memorable experience.

While I won’t deny that Warcraft 3 has a far better story than Grandia 2, I would argue that as a game, Grandia 2’s narrative is far more complimentary than that of Warcraft 3’s and I’m not knocking Warcraft 3’s narrative, rather I am comparing the two in terms of videogame storytelling. I can’t imagine Grandia 2 ever getting a series of books or a movie like the Warcraft series has but as a game, the narrative does its job really well. In fact I would argue that Grandia 2 is the greatest example of a strong videogame narrative. It’s very easy to get into and the characters are easy to learn and identify, whereas in Warcraft 3, the characters require a time investment for the player to get to know and appreciate them, much like in a book.

This is where Grandia 2 succeeds where Warcraft 3 fails. I absolutely adore the Warcraft series’ storytelling as I love reading the books and watching the cutscenes so I won’t deny that its narrative is a valuable experience. However I would argue that Grandia 2’s cutscenes reward players with more value than the cutscenes of Warcraft 3. Understanding this is vital when writing a videogame narrative.

Now that you understand the differences, what about humor? How does humor make Grandia 2 stand out so well? That’s simple, the humor brings out the character’s personality. When the player first meets Ryudo, the game makes it very clear as to what type of character the player is going to be experiencing through its use of humor. Ryudo is a gruff mercenary with one hell of a bad attitude, you can tell that this is the case through his snarky one-liners which are not only humorous to read but they characterize Ryudo really well.

Ryudo is a very serious, no-nonsense type of character and doesn’t take kindly to other people holding him back, he is very principle driven and has expectations of other people requiring them to live by his principles in order for them to earn his approval. The game doesn’t tell you this however, instead you find out through the many implications found within his witty comebacks. By reading into Ryudo’s humorous statements, you can easily define his character. In fact you could argue that Ryudo is written so well that he doesn’t need any character development whatsoever, he could have remained the same type of character for the entire game and still be entertaining.

Of course Ryudo does change over the course of the game which is fine and all but I’m making a point here. Character development is not the important thing, what is important is writing characters in a subtle manner so the player does not have to waste time listening to the writer’s explanation of the character, this is basic common sense in all kinds of writing but the way Ryudo is written through humor really makes him stand out as a character, it not only gives him personality but it also gives the player a few laughs. This kills two birds with one stone which is very important when writing a narrative in a videogame.

My advice would be to read into who the character is and what the character is most likely to come into conflict with, now bend the conflict in a way that is designed to be humorous and there you have it. The beauty of having lots of different personalities is that they clash and when they do they can be expressed in all kinds of different ways but humor is an expression a lot of games seem to undervalue. I believe it is a very valuable form of expression that needs to be explored more.

However I want to talk about another problem. Games which are humorous for the sake of being humorous. Now I know we all have different tastes in humor here but games which try too hard to be funny just aren’t engaging to me. A lot of people see the Devil May Cry series as being a series built on humorous storytelling, they would be wrong.

Dante is a very serious character to the point that he can be made into a humorous character. The point is that the funniest characters are typically the more serious ones and humorous narrative requires a serious space to have any lasting appeal. On the surface, Grandia 2 is nothing more than a giant cheeseball but Grandia 2 actually has a very serious narrative with a lot of very serious themes and a strong message that it is trying to deliver to the player. Rather than coating it in melodrama however, the game builds a bright, colourful and comical atmosphere to accompany these moments which creates a strong contrast that ultimately brings a very varied and engaging narrative that can easily be picked up on by just about anyone. It is for this reason that I strongly recommend Grandia 2 to just about anyone who enjoys JRPG’s.

However, games such as Disgaea and Borderlands fail to deliver to me the same experience, despite being “humorous”. As I was unable to take the game seriously I was also unable to take the humor seriously. This was the problem with these games for me, it’s just not engaging enough for me to even invest my time into the humor. These games feel extremely hollow and it is because of this that they fail to engage me. I pray that developers in the future can understand the value of humor and seriousness in a videogame’s narrative and how they can be blended together to make for a highly engaging experience for the player so that perhaps one day we can experience another game that can match the experience of Grandia 2.

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Theorycrafting – The Importance Of Pacing In Videogames

Pacing is one of the most important aspects of game design in my opinion and is one of the biggest challenges you will face when designing your game.

So you’ve solved a problem and you’ve decided how you’re going to motivate players to play your game but how can we engage them? I talked about engagement beforehand but In that video I mainly talked about the commonly used systems that many games use to build engagement. Now it’s time to get more in-depth and talk about pacing. Pacing is arguably the biggest factor that decides whether or not your game will be engaging. While it isn’t the only factor, pacing can make or break a game depending on how well it is implemented.

Now I have previously brought up the terms: real-time, synchronized time and turn based. These terms will be very important in this video as they are ultimately what will govern the style of pace you want for your game. The hard part comes with deciding how you want to pace your game as not all games have explored these terms and for good reason. A racing game could never work as a turn based or synchronized time based game because its core mechanism revolves around reaction time and dexterity which contradicts a turned based style of pacing.

Nevertheless, pacing is a science which has yet to be fully explored, much like many other aspects of game design. I can however point out fundamental flaws in games where the pacing and the nature of the game contradict one another. Real Time Strategy is essentially a flawed genre for this reason. While it is important to use time as a means of adding tension, a game that has too many things to manage will contradict its real-time pacing.

However, if we separate the nature and the pacing of Real Time Strategy, we can clearly see that real-time and strategy are not incompatible by nature, hence why it is not the genre, rather it is the games that are commonly labeled with the RTS genre that I have issues with. Real Time and Strategy could possibly work together but it would come at a cost. If you’re going to make a game work in real time, it needs to be adaptable to real time gameplay. Too much management can compromise a real time game and as such the inputs required to execute strategic choices need to be as straightforward as possible so that players can feel comfortable playing your game.

One could argue that Final Fantasy XIII is closer to that of a Real Time Strategy than a Turned Based Strategy and they wouldn’t be wrong. The ATB bar is very similar to that of a unit production timer that you would usually see in a traditional RTS. On the other hand I would argue that games like Grandia are closer to turn based, as the game pauses when you are about to enter a command.

Final Fantasy XIII’s biggest flaw was the fact that it was forced to implement an auto battle option in order for players to keep up with the pacing of the gameplay. As such, players would use that option over actually picking skills manually because of how its real-time influences the game’s rules, as auto battle is arguably the most efficient option due to the fact that picking skills manually forces them to navigate through menus which wastes valuable time.

In a turn based game, this would never be the case as the game pauses when you are navigating through the menu which makes sense as navigating menus is a meaningless activity that has absolutely no connection to the player’s strategic choice. As such, while Grandia may have an ATB gauge, the game works completely differently to Final Fantasy XIII as the decision-making process isn’t governed by real-time, Final Fantasy XIII’s is.

This is what greatly differentiates the two. You could argue that Final Fantasy XIII was received poorly for this reason, because it didn’t work. The question is, could it work?

Well that depends, are you willing to narrow down the number of choices in order to have a tighter level of control in your game to make up for it? The problem is, doing so could actually turn your game into an action game because even action games have some decision-making involved, it just isn’t as noticeable. There is a fine line between action and strategy that can be crossed if developers are not careful.

This is where games labeled as RTS are flawed, as the outcome is often influenced more by the number of actions per minute rather than the decision-making process. Take Warcraft 3’s four versus four for example. Due to the fact that large battles favor massing powerful units, certain units such as the Banshee become false choices as they are lesser units designed to support more powerful units. This makes the decision making process weaker. Most players will use Frost wyrms, fiends, chimeras, hippogryphs, siege engines, mortar teams and bats depending on their race.

Because Warcraft 3 suffers from a lot of balancing issues, the outcome of a 4V4 game is usually influenced by what races are on what team but if you were to play in an all undead mirror game, the team with the most combined action per minute wins. As such, Warcraft 3 is not a strategy game anymore, it is an action game.

Then we have synchronized time. Synchronized time is where time moves when the player inputs certain actions. In other words, the pacing of the game can vary from slow to fast depending on how quickly the player acts. While this might seem like a good thing at first, it’s important to remember that synchronized time changes the rules considerably from real-time and unlike turned based, it wouldn’t really work in a multiplayer game.

In addition to all this, it is important to note that certain genres just wouldn’t work well with synchronized time because it would contradict their very nature. Games like Mount And Blade, Valkyrie Profile 2, Mystery Dungeon and Superhot all use synchronized time in some shape or form.

Now that we’ve covered the basic pacing methods, it’s time to refine them. In order to do this we need to find an answer to a more complicated question, “how does the pacing of a game differ between two games which use the same style of pacing?”

Since this is a lot to take in, I’m going to aid you in the process of solving this issue and as such I have come up with a guideline, not a be all and end all… but a guideline on how to decide what style of pacing you want your game to be so that you can clearly understand what this process involves and how important it really is.

This guideline focuses on two aspects of a game which are polar opposites. In terms of racing games for example, supporting mechanisms make up these two opposite ends of the spectrum. One one hand you have games which focus on control and on the other hand you have games which focus on building up speed. I can safely say that all racing games need both mechanisms to function but one is usually going to outclass the other. This is where the decision-making process comes in.

Now the guideline suggests that games on either end of the spectrum are going to be niche… however for the sake of brevity, let’s say that this guideline is used to judge how good a game is. Lets say games on opposite sides of the spectrum are the best games in their genre.

Lets use first person shooters as an example. On one end of the spectrum you have games like Arma and Half Life. On the other end you have games like Quake and Painkiller.  Now that’s not to say that Arma and Half Life are the same because they’re very different but so are Painkiller and Quake. Each game has its own identity which separates it from the other. What these games share with one another is not the style of gameplay but rather the pacing of the game. In Half Life you spend a good portion of the game roaming the maps, hunting for ammunition and solving puzzles. In Arma you spend a lot of time positioning yourself in strategic positions as well as carefully aiming your weapon.

Quake and Painkiller on the other hand has you firing off bullets like there’s no tomorrow and you will be moving very quickly through levels, dodging bullets and other hazards like a god. Now there’s no secret that Painkiller was heavily inspired by Quake 2, you could even argue that it is Quake 3’s true single player campaign as its mechanics are very close to that of Quake 3’s. The level structure however is different. Painkiller is more linear, with large, open arenas to fight in, Quake is more contained and maze-like. Once thing is for certain though, both games are fast and will require a lot more reaction timing to master, Arma on the other hand requires more precision. While both games require a form of dexterity, it is merely the way in which players utilize their dexterity that differs and this completely changes not only the pacing but the entire nature of the gameplay experience as a whole.

As such you can clearly see how important pacing is, pacing can transform games. As a result, you have to be very careful with how you decide to pace your game. Does it fit in with your vision? This is the hardest question of them all because you might have the vision for the perfect game only for it to be ruined by poor pacing. As such you have yourself a dilemma. This is why pacing is so difficult because you don’t want to waste valuable resources trying to make a solid game only for it to fall apart because you realized that the pacing and the vision do not fit together. Then you have to re-think everything all over again and scrap the project.

To alleviate this issue. It might be important to pick the style of pacing first before you pick a vision, it sounds counter-intuitive but believe me, you won’t regret it. This will narrow down the scope of your vision drastically but this also helps you make a more calculated decision when it comes to designing your vision. Afterwards all you have to do is make sure the vision and your style of pacing work in tangent. In order to do so, you need to come up with creative mechanisms, ideally ones which kill two birds with one stone. Remember that the less mechanisms your game relies on, the less you will have to put in your game and the more simple and accessible your game will be. In addition, dealing with too many mechanisms can be costly and time is precious so it is very important to be creative with your ideas in order to hit that sweet spot.

Theorycrafting – Does the RPG genre really need to exist?

When one interprets the term “RPG” they tend to associate it with Dungeons And Dragons. The problem is, this doesn’t tell us what an RPG actually is. If you look at Dungeons And Dragons today and break down all of its elements, you can clearly see connections between DND and other genres outside of RPG’s.

Doom for example is loosely inspired by DND, this is made even more apparent by the Astral Dreadnought’s face being cropped and made into one of Doom’s most iconic enemies, the Cacodemon. ID software were clearly fans of DND and they took inspiration from it. The maps in both Wolfenstein and Doom can be seen as replications of possible DND maps, the first person maze-like structure of the game’s levels are similar to that of Akalabeth which was also inspired by DND.

One could argue that Doom and The Elder Scrolls Arena are the same game on the surface with the only differences being the lack of RNG elements, character building and replacing the direction of sword swings with the aiming of the crosshair. Mapping isn’t the only thing DND was known for but it’s definitely one of its defining traits as mapping was a big part of the game. The same could be said about Doom.

So what truly makes an RPG an RPG? If we look at all the elements of DND we are left confused as to which elements truly matter within the context of an RPG. The point I want to make is that the context does not matter. Every single gameplay element of DND is important, not just in RPG’s but videogames in general. The problem is that the games we define as RPG’s were merely games that were built to imitate DND much like Toukiden Kiwami and God Eater Burst are built to imitate Monster Hunter. That is not to say that they don’t have their own unique elements, these games did solve problems, it’s just that the problems they solved aren’t as clear to us today because we’ve taken them for granted.

One could consider Role Playing Games to be a sub genre of strategy games. The thing is, DND is exactly that, it’s a strategy game that uses dice rolls to manipulate variables to encourage more experimental gameplay and more replayability. The dice roll is merely a facade that covers a deep strategy game built on player intuition. The player’s choices are the strategy, the dice roll is the manipulation of the variable values that influence the outcome of the strategic choice the player makes. The reason for this is likely to solve a problem.

Strategy games like Warcraft Orcs And Humans are a lot easier to figure out than DND because they focus less on RNG and more on methodical design. That’s not to say that Warcraft Orcs And Humans is entirely a methodical game. However the fact that it is named “Real Time Strategy” and not “Real Time Role Playing Game” makes it pretty obvious that it wasn’t trying to be like DND, it was trying to be more akin to wargaming but in real-time. Then Warcraft 3 came along and introduced a leveling system. This isn’t something that hasn’t happened before. Games like Chainmail did this way before Warcraft 3 ever did. Does this mean that Warcraft 3 and Chainmail are RPG’s? Well apparently not as many consider them to be strategy games. So if leveling systems have nothing to do with what makes an RPG then what does? Just to make things clear, Warcraft 3 does have elements of RNG. A good example of this is Grom Hellscream’s critical strike skill which has a chance to deal double the hero’s base damage.

So this technically means that RNG and stats also have nothing to do with RPG’s since they can be applied to strategy games and they should be applied to strategy games, at least in my opinion. Why? Because they are wonderful gameplay mechanics that helps keep games from stagnating. Random elements can make anything intense because you can never be so sure of the outcome, sure said outcome can be manipulated but only to a certain extent through the use of RNG. The thrill of getting that critical strike chance is awesome because it can turn the tide of battle very quickly.

Now if we were to break down the definition of a Role Playing Game, it essentially means that you’re playing a game in which you represent a role. The truth is, this is the case for a lot of games these days. We have moved on from games such as Tetris and it seems that most games these days involve role-playing in some shape or form. Halo might be a first person shooter but you’re playing the role of Master Chief. What people don’t understand is that back in the day, games in which you played roles were few and far between, games were more abstract and as such it was far more difficult for games to portray a role for the players to play. There are games like Tetris in which you don’t play a role whatsoever. These games still exist today and as such they’re massively outnumbered by games that can be labeled as RPGs and if we were to name these games RPGs then the term itself would serve no practical purpose.

I can however state that most games are RPG’s these days and the mechanics that traditional RPG’s are known for have flooded into other games such as Borderlands. Does this mean that the term RPG has no meaning anymore? Well yes and no. The mechanics traditionally used in RPG’s are very meaningful, the ability to play a role is also very meaningful. What isn’t meaningful is the genre used to define a specific type of game. The term RPG is misleading. If you were to ask whether you wanted to make an action game, a strategy game or an RPG, which one would you choose and why? Action and strategy games have plausible reasons for their existence. Some people enjoy slow-paced thinking games, other people enjoy adrenaline pumping rhythmic games. There is a completely different audience for games like chess to games like football and each audience has their own set of preferences.

This is why many people were outraged when Final Fantasy decided to focus on real-time gameplay. The usage of the menu system in Final Fantasy XIII didn’t flow particularly well with the fast paced real time gameplay. Adding an auto battle option merely served to limit the player’s choice and navigating the menus took way too long for players to do due to the fact that every single choice is presented in a long list the player has to navigate through. As such the combat of Final Fantasy XIII was a recipe for disaster and the reason why people despised Final Fantasy XIII becomes clear.

Personally I dislike Real Time Strategy games as I don’t enjoy having to quickly think about what i’m going to do, I prefer to take my time. Real Time Strategy games rush you to make decisions and while making quick decisions might seem like a good thing to some, it doesn’t to me. Strategy games on the other hand aren’t so bad. Mount And Blade is a good example of a well paced and cleverly structured strategy game as the pacing of the game is only as fast as the player wants it to be. It is what I like to call “Synchronized Time Strategy”.

Believe it or not, the same applies to action games. Valkyrie Profile 2 is a “Synchronized Time Action” game which is something you definitely don’t see everyday. This is what makes Valkyrie Profile 2’s combat system one of a kind as many of its gameplay elements would never work in a real-time game (which most action games are). If I was to compare this style of gameplay to any other game series it would be the Mystery dungeon series. Unlike Valkyrie Profile 2 however, the Mystery Dungeon games are not considered to be RPG’s, rather they are considered to be “Roguelikes” which Valkyrie Profile 2 is not.

I really think that people under appreciate the value of synchronized time in videogames. It allows players to play games at their own pace. Pacing has been an issue for quite some time now and if more games were to use this style of gameplay, I believe it could help alleviate the problem of slow-paced gameplay. Synchronized time is not exclusive to RPG’s, so this doesn’t make it less important than any RPG mechanics in an RPG.

The point is, people need to start looking at the structural elements of game design more closely rather than trying to come up with thematic definitions for game genres. It’s one thing calling a game a first person shooter but is it a rail shooter or a free moving shooter? Both can be in first person and involve shooting but both are completely different games. Unlike RPG’s however, at least the term “First Person Shooter” makes sense as it categorizes gameplay that involves aiming via camera movement. The term Role Playing Game makes no sense whatsoever as it only categorizes gameplay which involves playing a role… which is in the vast majority of videogames released these days.

I do think genre definitions can improve, however I can see the importance in thematic genre definitions as they help newcomers discover a genre they can feel comfortable with. Not everybody is going to want to play a shooter because many shooters contain violence. Sure not all first person shooters are violent, Pokemon Snap is a good example as to how you can design a first person shooter without having to kill things but until people become more accustomed to gaming, I don’t think genre definitions should change. Perhaps if gaming becomes more acceptable in popular culture, we can improve our definitions of games by breaking down their individual mechanisms and sectioning them off into their own categories, we need an alternative definition for these games as the current definitions too vague. The problem is that there are so many different games labeled as RPG’s and we would have to break them down individually to find out what they really are.

If we did break them down, I think critics would have a much easier time measuring a game’s caliber. Of course it is still important to measure the levels of growth in a videogame and since RPG mechanics are directly linked to growth it can be as easy as simply looking closely at these mechanics and measuring them to see how well they accompany the core gameplay mechanics and how much of a rewarding experience they provide.

So I think we’ve found the true meaning of the term “RPG”. The genre label of RPGs given to games that use heavy RNG based mechanics and variables as a form of influencing decision-making and growth. The biggest problem with this label is that every other genre of game is adopting this system and thus they become RPGs. This means the way we look at games needs to change, we need to look at other games and how they implement elements of growth and experimental gameplay because this has become the norm now. Role Playing Games are no longer a genre exclusive to the stereotypical games that focus on heavy narrative (which was never the case to begin with, we just grew accustomed to this definition and by we, I am talking about the masses).

So what is to become of those games? Are they to be judged independently as either action or strategy games? Or will we find a new definition? Whatever happens, the way we critique these games should be no different. It is still important to focus on the mechanics that make the game’s growth and decision-making process engaging. We just need to start acknowledging these games as either action or strategy games or whatever is left when the RPG mechanics are ripped out of it. That way, we can help people understand what the game actually is without getting lost in the fog that is the term “Role Playing Game”.

It is important to note that this is not the responsibility of the critics. Critics cannot change something until it is widely accepted by the masses and as such we need to be patient. We cannot simply shove these definitions down people’s throats nor should we confuse the masses further by completely boycotting the definition. Instead we need to work on breaking down each individual game and discuss what makes these games great or otherwise. Once we know what makes a great game, we can discover new methods to motivate and engage players by analyzing the systems games use to provide the best possible experience for the player and share our ideas with other people so that not only do we get better games but people can finally understand what truly matters to them in game design.

This is a slow and arduous task that I alone cannot do but I can shed some light on it hence the fact that I chose to write about it. The RPG genre label needs to disappear and all games should be judged on growth and how well they implement growth because growth is practically everywhere now, people enjoy growth and as such, people enjoy RPGs. That’s not to say that everybody needs it but I do think that people enjoy it. Ultimately it all comes down to the way it is implemented. People have argued for way too long as to what makes an RPG an RPG and it’s time we put a stop to this, permanently by banishing the label from existence and accept that each of these games are different.

What makes MMORPG’s so successful?

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This is a topic that I have had in my mind for a while now, MMORPG’s have been widely successful in the past few years, however their popularity has started to slowly deteriorate in recent years. Looking closely at the genre as a whole, it is easy to see that there are a lot of reasons why people play MMORPG’s and almost all of them have a psychological impact on a player’s approach to such games. This makes MMORPG’s one of the most diverse genre’s in gaming which is appealing in itself, sometimes to a fault. This is ultimately what has led to the success of the MMORPG genre as a whole.

The reason why people enjoy MMORPG’s however is tough to answer. We all have different tastes as games and MMORPG’s offer a diverse quantity of activities to engage in. Let’s look at World Of Warcraft for example. There are many different types of World Of Warcraft players and the game attracts an extremely wide audience for this reason however there is one thing that grabs the player’s attention almost immediately. That would be the game’s theme. Warcraft is known for having a very strong lore and setting. You could say that in theory, an MMORPG is the best way to accompany such a title, this is evident with the release of Star Wars The Old Republic, a game based on a series that has built up a massive fan base through its iconic lore and setting which rivals that of World Of Warcraft.

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As such, themes are an important component when developing an MMORPG, it may appear to be quite silly at first but when you consider the vast amount of MMORPG’s on the market it kind of makes sense. The most popular MMO of all time, Word Of Warcraft has a theme that a lot of people can identify with and that many people have likely already invested themselves in. So a strong theme is usually the first thing that grabs people’s attention but what makes a strong theme?

A strong theme is a byproduct of engaging lore which is a byproduct of strong world building and iconic characters. Allow me to break things down for you by using Star Wars as an example. A lot of people are strongly invested in the Star Wars universe for many reasons but when you look at popular culture the most prominent character in the Star Wars universe who appears to have shaped the series is Darth Vader. What makes Darth Vader stand out from the rest is his back story, much like Arthas was in Warcraft 3, Vader was once a noble jedi who fought against the dark side of the force under the name of Anakin Skywalker but after performing what is known as one of the most notorious face-heel turn’s in pop culture, he turned to the dark side of the force and betrayed everybody who trusted him.

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It’s funny how both Star Wars The Old Republic and World Of Warcraft are so very similar in the sense that they both use the same trope for their most prominent characters but that is not to say it is the only way to approach a game’s theme. The face-heel turn trope was simply executed in a way that strongly impacted the connection between the person and the character. I think the reason why this worked so well is the fact that it allowed players to experience two sides of the same coin or as I like to call “multiple perspectives” as mentioned in my previous article.

What does this all have to do with MMORPG’s you ask? Well when you consider the vast amount of MMORPG’s on the market and the ones who succeeded the most, you will recognize the importance of the game’s theme. An MMORPG without a theme is a very shallow experience and while many successful MMORPG’s exist without having an established theme prior to the game’s release, these games haven’t aged too well.

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If we look at Ultima online for example, it is based on a series which is comprised of 9 other games filled to the brim with world building content, Lord British being one of the more prominent characters in said game. Ultima Online was the first MMO to gain recognition by the masses and essentially pioneered the genre. Afterwards games such as Runescape, Everquest and Tibia followed suit in an attempt to cash in on the success of Ultima Online, it wouldn’t be long before World Of Warcraft itself would take hold of the market and make what was quite possibly the most profitable decision Blizzard have ever made. They had a huge opportunity and they took it at the cost of the series’ lore (which I’m still salty about to this day).

As such World Of Warcraft’s strong theme grabbed the attention of the masses quickly and became a juggernaut. In fact, World Of Warcraft has become so successful that many people have forgotten the RTS series that made it so big in the first place, Warcraft. This has ultimately proven to be detrimental to the series as a whole from a lore enthusiast’s perspective as it has catered the series’ storyline to a broader audience causing many problems for players who were highly engaged in the original trilogy’s storytelling.

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As one of those people, I am very cynical towards the MMORPG genre as a whole but that isn’t the only reason. MMORPG’s have the tendency to focus primarily on psychological engagement often using microtransactions to exploit the consumer’s lust for growth by providing them the option to pay for services with real money. This often comes at a cost to the gameplay itself. Games such as GTA Online is notorious for making progression a tedious grind by making their obstacles more of an ordeal to overcome rather than fun and rewarding players with low amounts of experience and in-game cash in order to psychologically influence people to spend their hard-earned money on shark cards.

MMORPG’s as a whole rely on slow progression in order to maintain engagement. What they’re forgetting is that they are catering to a massive audience. I personally believe this is partially what has led to the slow drop in popularity of the MMORPG genre as people simply do not want to invest any more time into these games anymore. For example the age demographic of Runescape players have grown up and this caused a severe drop in player activity among other things. The addition of microtransactions was implemented for this very reason. Instead of improving the game, Jagex decided that the best cause of action was to seek an alternative method to making money, much like other companies in the gaming industry, Jagex will do everything in their power to avoid improving their games and maintain a solid income to keep their servers running and keep their staff paid.

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I feel that a lot of MMORPG’s have grown to rely on this feature since their drop in popularity but this is definitely not the answer we consumers want, this merely solves a one-sided problem and that being the developer/publisher’s need to make money. It is evident that MMORPG’s focus less on releasing quality content and more on quantity that is supposed to keep people playing the game but that is not how the rules of engagement work.

Engagement requires players to be invested in something, it requires motivation and motivation requires a rewarding element. The problem isn’t the lack of rewarding elements however, rather it is the time investment required to earn said rewarding element. As such MMORPG’s need to find a new way to keep players engaged and microtransactions are not the answer.

 

MMORPG’s have the tendency to focus primarily on psychological engagement often using microtransactions to exploit the consumer’s lust for growth by providing them the option to pay for services with real money

 

So we have found the problem but what is the solution? This is where creativity comes into play, something that developers seem to have forgotten about. MMORPG’s are certainly a challenge to design as they are designed to attract a wide audience. As such it is difficult to figure out what players ultimately desire in the game and as a result there is no absolute method to keep players engaged.

The only way that MMORPG’s are going to maintain relevance is by narrowing their target audience. I know it sounds counter-intuitive in a genre that is designed to attract a massive audience but I do believe that it is needed. To know what audience you need to attract you need to find out what said audience wants. There are what I like to call the 3 core audiences in MMORPG’s. These are commonly known as PVPers (Player Vs Player), PVEers (Player Vs Environment) and RPers (Roleplay). The first two audience are easier to cater to as they represent the masses.

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To cater to the PVP audience you need to understand the concept of false choices and how they can be detrimental to your game. PVP is all about balancing. Games which focus on PVP are often criticized for having balancing issues. As a result having more choices and options does not automatically make your game better, it can actually make your game worse unless it is properly managed. I do think that having some level of choice is important to gain the player’s interest but it is important to realize what each choice brings to the table and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

This is where the tricky part comes in. The more choices you provide the harder it is to balance the game because every choice acts as a weight to the scales. It is not as simple as merely dumping ideas on each side of the scale, you need to consider every single facet of each idea brought to the table and how it affects other ideas. Only then can you properly balance it. Think of it like solving a rubix cube. As you move one side, the other side will change as well until you can get each face to show only one colour, you have yet to solve the puzzle. This is the process of balancing and it can be an extremely strenuous task to take on.

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Then you have PVE also known as player vs environment. The process of designing PVE is similar to that of regular RPG’s. Provide the player with a scenario that involves working together to overcome an obstacle. The goal of PVE is to give players a challenge that forces them to work together to overcome it. Most MMORPG’s rely on inherent complexity to create devious obstacles that require both a strong mind and team co-ordination to overcome. The problem with this however is that many of these obstacles often lead to trial and error and this can irritate players. Many RPG’s tend to focus on inherent complexity due to the fact that they complicate their rules with the intent of presenting players with many false choices in order to keep things interesting.

Sadly this can be applied to all strategy games that are focused on single/co-operative play and as a result there is often a barrier of entry to these games, MOBA’s are the worst offender for this relying solely on Inherent complexity to provide a challenge. With inherent complexity being an important component in designing an engaging PVE experience, this can heavily divide the audience of a game’s player base and is quite possibly one of the biggest reasons why players tend to get frustrated playing MMORPG’s.

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 Path Of Exile may seem like a mindless action game on the surface but its character management systems are inherently complex..

But to focus on PVE, you will need to add some level of complexity, there really isn’t much of a choice really. This is why World Of Warcraft has so many different statistics. It is not simply to get players to gaze in awe at the many parameters, rather it is to essentially overwhelm the player with many different choices, many of which being false choices. Ultimately I would say that the best way to approach PVE is to give purpose to each choice in some way or another. If you don’t use *insert ability here* on one boss, you might want to use it on another boss. Keeping a diverse range of obstacles is the best way to keep players engaged. It’s important to encourage players not to rely on the same methods when it comes to PVE and instead have players experiment with different methods and see which works best. Don’t forget to test those methods in order to fine tune your difficulty.

Experimentation is key and as such you will want to focus your game on experimental design rather than methodical design. This is what makes RPG’s so unique from other genres as they tend to combine inherent complexity with experimental gameplay in order to present a challenge for players to overcome. There are also games such as Child Of Light which are surprisingly very simple and focus on emergent complexity with the cancel mechanic allowing players to time their attacks in order to cancel out the incoming attack. This cannot work for MMO’s however simply because MMO’s are built to last and games such as Child Of Light do not last in such an environment because those games are quickly “beaten” and the strategies are quickly set in stone as they are easy to learn.

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The biggest issue is the unfortunate eventuality that all MMORPG’s will eventually be beaten. In fact, you could say that these games tend to be beaten faster than one would think. This is due to the fact that MMO’s tend to have groups known as “first world clans” which are clans dedicated to becoming the first group to overcome the obstacles and are often the first people to establish the solution. This information is then spread to the masses and afterwards the game becomes a monotonous grind as players already know the solution to the obstacle, the challenge is simply getting all players informed and keeping the team coordinated which is a lot harder than it sounds.

So PVE in MMO’s often tends to revolve around using complicated mechanics to influence a heavy focus on team play. Understanding this is only half the battle though, finding the answer is a different kettle of fish altogether. Is there really an answer to this problem or will MMORPG’s continue to stagnate in the PVE department. If you are going to tackle this then you have to be a better man than me. As someone who prides himself on his intuition, even I have become mind-boggled by this and as a result I am unable to find a solution that will work for everything, at least not without completely changing the game from the ground up. I do have some ideas though, developing an MMOFPSRPG might be one way of solving this problem as FPS games tend to have a lot of room for emergent complexity as it adds the extra layer of challenge in the form of movement and aiming.

Mount And Blade on horse

You could argue that these games are the future but I would also like to bring your attention to a game I’m quite fond of, Mount And Blade Warband. Already, Mount And Blade Warband has managed to surpass the MMORPG genre in my eyes. Sure the experience is more solitary but the scale of things are much bigger and more immersive. However what I would like to focus on is the gameplay. By using its simplistic yet intricate blocking system, Mount And Blade Warband has a lot of emergent complexity to the point that the multiplayer has a very strong learning curve. Sure anyone can simply swing a sword but how do you approach an attacking foe?

Mount And Blade, much like in real world combat is all about mind games and reflexes. In order to control a battle, you must be constantly aware of the enemy’s actions and know the most effective method of countering said action, plus the dexterity to pull it off. This is what makes Mount And Blade so unique in comparison to other games and the silly thing is that its multiplayer tends to focus on PVP rather than PVE. However modders have managed to incorporate PVE elements into the multiplayer adding bots for the players to fight against as a team. This makes for some really exciting gameplay as players are constantly on their toes performing actions with the utmost of dexterity and intelligence.

Mount And Blade standing together

If you ask me, I’d say that the ideal game is one that manages to incorporate the gameplay of Mount And Blade with the universe of Warcraft. Now imagine if World Of Warcraft inherited the gameplay of Mount And Blade. That is my philosophy on how to make the best PVE experience possible in an MMORPG.

Finally we have RP otherwise known as “Role Play”. Not to be confused with “Role Playing Game”, role play is what I like to call an adult version of “playing house” but on a much larger scale. Basically you put yourself in a persona that is your avatar and you act out your avatar in-game. Yes it is very nerdy stuff but A lot of people are engaged in it and I would definitely say that it is an important component of any MMORPG.

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Roleplaying has been given a bad name over the years. This is often due to the blatant elitism of roleplayers. If you are planning on targeting roleplayers as a whole, the MMORPG genre definitely isn’t for you. This is because tabletop RPG’s are the best platform for just about any roleplaying experience as it negates all of the elitism that comes with it by allowing you to play with other people and respect one another allowing other people to learn how to role play more effectively rather than being shunned by a condescending player base who are hiding behind their anonymity.

Of course this doesn’t mean that computer games shouldn’t keep role players in mind. Role playing in computer games has become very popular and it is a good idea to accommodate these players. It is important to remember however that the game you are designing is a game to be played. My advice is that if you wish to focus on roleplay, you will want to incorporate more story-focused elements in your game rather than just simply giving players progression. This often means that you will fall into the trap of having to artificially lengthen your game through slow progression.

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However, games with an established theme need not be too concerned with story elements as they already have an established lore. These games simply need to give roleplayers the tools and the environment to impact their role-playing experience in a positive way. Role-playing is essentially a metagame attached to most MMORPG’s and while it is a popular activity, it should still recognized as a metagame. It is impossible to mechanically strengthen role playing in any videogame and any attempt to do so may actually cause more problems than it really needs to. The same can be said for thematic design choices, for example, forcing players to choose between Alliance or Horde only serves to limit the player’s possibilities in roleplay rather than make their roleplay more engaging as they are only able to roleplay from the perspective of the faction that they chose.

Of course there is no limit to the player’s imagination, the purpose of implementing roleplaying elements is to avoid disorienting the player with aesthetic limitations. As such, the goal of all role play focused computer games is to give players a diverse amount of aesthetic tools such as costumes and skins to keep the player immersed and engaged in their role play. This can work with just about any game, just don’t forget that personalization is a rewarding element and that role-playing gives purpose to personalization. In a way, you are given a free ticket to engagement by this player-made metagame so take advantage of this by rewarding players with more cool cosmetic outfits.

path of exile Microtransactions

This is another thing that MMORPG’s have exploited with the use of microtransactions as many MMO’s use cosmetic microtransactions to fund themselves. This is almost a universally accepted method of incorporating microtransactions but it is certainly not the most ideal method from the consumer’s perspective. There are so many ways to reward roleplaying but this is best left to the players themselves as it is essentially a meta game. This is where tabards in World Of Warcraft come into play. By giving players an emblem printed on their outfit, they feel rewarded for partaking in role play. What games need to do is provide clan leaders with more options to reward players for their role playing efforts with cosmetics.

Now that you know how to cater to your audience, you need to execute the solution but it is not quite as simple as this. Since MMO’s are built to last, the process of problem solving must be repeated time and time again to maintain a strong player base. This is what I believe most MMORPG’s seem to be forgetting. Problem solving is important for games to maintain their relevance in popular culture and when a game is built to last a long time, many problems will need to be solved to keep the game fresh and attract an even bigger audience to keep those numbers high. Taking all these things into account, developing an MMORPG is no easy task.

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If your goal is to develop a successful MMORPG I strongly advise you to reconsider. The most successful MMO’s are often byproducts of already successful franchises, a place for fans to gather and socialize. When I asked players what they enjoyed the most in an MMORPG, most who responded told me that the social aspect of the game is what keeps them engaged, not the gameplay, the story or the aesthetics. Do we even need MMO’s to be games? Or do they serve a greater purpose than simply providing players with engaging activities? Perhaps MMO’s are designed to bring gamers together in a heavily social environment. In a way you could consider Playstation Home to be an MMO as it does just that. Games such as Club Penguin did the same thing, people didn’t play it for the minigames, they played it to stand around and talk to people in a world that was built primarily for such interaction.

As such, social interaction is the core focus of all MMORPG’s regardless of gameplay and just about anything else a game needs and it is logically impossible to control a social environment as it is shaped by the players and only by the players. You could argue that MMO’s serve as the ultimate platform for metagaming and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. It is important however to provide guidelines to help players adapt to the social environment and this is where the gameplay comes into play. Rather than focusing way too hard on providing a difficult challenge, try to provide activities that require good coordination that aren’t too inherently complex.

 

Do we even need MMO’s to be games? Or do they serve a greater purpose than simply providing players with engaging activities? Perhaps MMO’s are designed to bring gamers together in a heavily social environment.

 

Games like football for example are a social activity that is not inherently too complex but has a lot of emergent complexity and focus on teamwork. Trying to fit such an activity in a virtual space is ultimately the goal of all MMORPG’s. It is the biggest reason why games like Fifa and Madden are so popular, and one of the biggest reasons why games like Rocket League became so successful. Social interaction plays a big part in these games for better or worse and as such designing the game in a way that allows you to manage the social interaction indirectly is what every MMORPG needs to do.

My personal stance on MMORPG’s as a whole is that they contradict themselves. The two rewarding elements commonly associated with MMORPG’s are invested empowerment and personalization. Both are single-handedly crushed by the simple fact that these games are designed to be played online. This means that when the servers go down, the player’s progress is essentially taken away from them as well as the personalized avatar that they have grown attached to.  This is why I tend to prefer games such as Mount And Blade Warband which are single player games that can be played offline and all the data is stored directly on the player’s hard drive. In addition, Mount And Blade has a lot of design elements that rewards player intuition as well as demanding player intuition in order for them to make progress.

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Add to this the fact that you are given an army to control and that technically makes Mount And Blade Warband the best MMORPG ever made… and it’s not even an MMORPG. As such I don’t personally enjoy playing MMO’s, while I used to play World Of Warcraft back in the day, after my account was hacked and my character lost, I realized that all of my efforts playing World Of Warcraft were futile, especially when games like Need For Speed World get shut down by EA, what is stopping Blizzard from doing the same?

My advice to anyone who wants to develop an MMO is to ask yourself “how can I make this game more rewarding?” and I don’t mean improving what is already there. In theory, what you need to do is find a new niche in the form of rewarding elements. Invested empowerment and personalization has been proven to be ineffective in the long run.

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This leaves kinetic empowerment and exploration and most MMORPG’s don’t focus on these rewarding elements and that’s not to say that they aren’t there, rather the lack of social interaction revolving around these two rewarding elements causes them to be far less emphasized as they can often detract from the social experience. Invested empowerment creates a hierarchy which influences the community and gets players to feel as if they are inferior/superior to others based on how much investment they have in the game.

Personalization allows players to define themselves in the social realm so that they can portray themselves through imagery, it also lets them create a cool/trendy avatar that allows them to show rather than tell. It’s a psychological thing mostly but it works. Now what does exploration and kinetic empowerment have to do with social gaming? How often do you see people chatting in public lobby’s in first person shooters and how often do they say anything of value? This is because players are way too absorbed in kinetic activity to put their efforts into communication.

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As for exploration, exploring a world is an isolating experience because your eyes are fixated on the aesthetic awe rather than connecting with the other players. It would be cool if people would band together and explore a world together, maybe there are role-playing groups that do this but if such things do exist then they are incredibly niche. As such it’s difficult to focus on these rewarding elements because they tend to divert players away from the social interaction in which an MMO is supposed to revolve around.

In any case, MMO’s will always have these problems so long as they strive to be Online social simulators, so I doubt the genre will ever appeal to me as much as it used to. However there is still a demographic for it and as such I feel the need to voice my opinion on it as well as give people ideas on how to make these games better. I do hope that you have taken something away from this and that it will hopefully impact the MMORPG genre in a positive way.

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Still, if you are thinking of developing an MMO, take time to consider the other routes and see which is best for you. MMORPG’s may sound like huge, massive and successful games but this is only the case in the circumstance that the developer can give the genre a needed boot to the ass by solving some of its many problems. Only that way will the genre return to its supremacy and will another MMO ever rival the likes of World Of Warcraft. Blizzard’s multi-million dollar game has a weak point, you just need to hit it for massive damage!!!

Special Thanks to Zombz for the Images

Videogames don’t need to be perfect

Sometimes I wonder… does the name Cynical Gaming Blog hold much meaning anymore? Perhaps I should rename the site to “Rational Gaming Blog” because as a gamer, I seem to be one of the most rational gamers there is at the moment. Why is this you ask? Because I can appreciate games for what they are instead of simply berating every single little thing about them.

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What has happened to gamers these days? Have we really stooped as low as the movie industry? I made three consecutive articles a while back (two of which are reviews) and all three of them revolve around gaming related media which has recieved negative backlash from either fans or critics over something stupid like “why does this girl wear such huge underwear?” or “this movie sucks because it’s based on a series which I haven’t a clue about because I don’t play videogames so I don’t understand the story” or “Why do the character models look so ugly? This game sucks because the character models are ugly!”

Now I think one of my biggest flaws as a blogger is that I haven’t stayed true to my name as a “cynical gamer” and hopefully this blog will help you interpret its meaning. I’m cynical towards the industry, yes because publishers are ruining it (that’s a rant for another day, go watch this video if you want the gist of it because this guy sums it up in a nutshell) but I’m becoming even more cynical of the gaming community. Why? Because we let it happen, it is us gamers that let all the industry bullshit happen because we buy the games that cause the issues in the first place.

You just bought Overwatch? You’re the heart of the problem. I wonder how long it will take before they implement microtransactions… oh, wait they already did? Brilliant, one small step for man, one large step for the industry’s downfall. Lets see how long our beloved games last shall we? Gaming may be on the up now but considering how much backlash Star Ocean 5 has received by so-called fans, can we honestly expect that it will last?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Is Star Ocean 5 really that bad? Or is it simply misunderstood?

Perhaps you were disappointed by Star Ocean 5 and while that is cool and all, it doesn’t make it a bad game just because you set your expectations too high, it has too many merits to be a bad game and I have described those merits in my review. That’s why I write reviews, because reviews are all about finding both the merits and the flaws of a game and weighing them up. The problem is that most gamers, sometimes even critics focus way too much on either the positives or the negatives that they contradict their statements completely. I try not to be one of those people. Whilst I won’t deny that I have written reviews that are absolutely terrible (my Star Ocean 2 review which written was back on Destructoid was appaling) I can definite say that I have improved over the years and I have enough experience to understand what makes a good review.

However many may be led to believe that my points are invalid due to the fact that I’m not a paid professional. Journalism goes beyond what I do, they get where they are because they have qualities which I don’t and I am aware of those qualities. That doesn’t mean that their points are any better than mine, I’ve seen some absolutely terrible reviews from critics that don’t know what they’re talking about, go look at Warcraft movie reviews if you want proof of that.
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As a result, I only read/watch reviews from independent sources such as myself because believe it or not, they do a far better job than professional critics do. This is mainly due to the amount of workload they are given whilst we independent critics have all the time in the world to make a detailed and complete review, it is something which I aspire to do, to cover everything a game has to offer and whilst I don’t always get it the first time (AKA Valkyrie Profile 2) I try my hardest to cover as much as I can about the game and even then it’s not enough. I could re-write half of my reviews and apply so much more information but I’d rather look to the future rather than look to the past. Maybe if I received requests I would go back but until then, I will move forward (unless I really feel the urge to re-write a review).

You see, most paid professionals are given deadlines and a lot of games to review. As such they can only briefly cover each one because they have to be resourceful with their time. How can you trust someone who does half a job? Don’t you want to hear the whole thing? I’m not telling you that you have to read my content and only my content because that’s absurd, so many people do a better job of reviewing videogames than I do, here’s some examples of reviewers that I watch, those guys do a far better job than I do when it comes to making reviews and you should watch them.

That little rant aside, let’s get into the meat of the topic, perfection in videogames. What does perfection mean exactly? I’ll show you exactly what perfection means:

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Ok, ok I don’t mean to be so big-headed to state that F-Zero GX is a perfect game as a fact but personally in my opinion, I think it is. Why do you think we haven’t seen a sequel yet? Because what else could they do with it?  Shigeru Miyamoto asked this very question and to be honest I can’t deny that he is right F-Zero GX perfected the gameplay formula, it perfected the world, the feeling.

Even the terrible voice acting and over the top choreography invokes the perfect style of campy charm that was intentionally designed to act as a parody of comic book tropes, an underline agenda that the game never openly admits to but as the player, you can just tell by playing the game that the developers wanted to create a comic book inspired world and rather than trying to come up with something serious, they decided to make it funny, this is made even more evident by the character bio video’s which show each character in a funny situation. The game was intended to be camp and as such the flamboyant and misplaced voice acting was added specifically to add humor to the game.

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Add to that the incredible music, visuals, 60 FPS and the countless features which exist purely to add more to the experience and you have what I consider to be a perfect game. Even Valkyrie Profile 2 couldn’t surpass it in this department but my cognitive bias puts it 1 place above F-Zero GX because I love RPG’s.

However to expect every game to be as incredible as F-Zero GX is simply outrageous. That game was a masterpiece in every single way, though it may be possible to top it, doing so would be an insane task, a challenge and a huge risk. People seem to forget that videogames are made by people. The goal of a videogame director is not to come up with as many ideas as possible because that would be foolish, their job is to be resourceful. Why do you think Star Ocean 5 was so short? It’s not because the developers are lazy, not by a long shot.

The reason why is simple. They want to filter out all of the filler in order to improve the pacing of the game. Shuichi Kobayashi (I swear I spell his name wrong every time) openly mentioned this in an interview. How can you say that’s not a good decision? He is surely giving us what we want by removing the needless filler that many games have these days and even if you enjoy filler, can you honestly say that this decision ultimately made the entire game terrible? Surely not because I refuse to believe that anybody could be that foolish.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

Character development on the go. Just like one of those cereal bar commercials.

One thing that I would like to mention before wrapping this up is that the things that matter to me in game design are the little things. Whether or not you pay attention to these things or not is irrelevant, it is important to pay attention to the small intricacies if you want your opinion to hold any value. If you aren’t capable of accounting for every single little detail a game has to offer then your opinion is worthless. I’m not saying that having a biased opinion is wrong, I’m saying that you shouldn’t use your opinions to give false advice.

By analyzing the minor intricacies you are able to decide more thoroughly who the game is for and who should avoid it. If you fail to do so, you obviously don’t show enough respect for the game, so why should other people respect your opinion? I don’t care if you’re a reviewer, if you have an opinion, don’t spread biased propaganda if you aren’t able to respect the game enough to give it a thorough analysis.

This however doesn’t mean you have to look at every single feature a game has to offer. Like I said, the small things matter but the big things aren’t as important when discussing a review because they are a lot easier for the consumer to see and as such they can easily judge whether or not the game is for them by just looking at it or watching a lets play on Youtube. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cover these points however. Big things do matter, just not as much, if a game has a unique feature that separates itself from the crowd then it is definitely worth a mention. However most games use features that are set in stone.

Painkiller HD Survival

Like for example, most FPS have horde survival modes now. You don’t have to break down every single game mode to get your point across unless that game mode has issues… and if it does you have to find the problem… and thus you must delve into the small intricacies once again. Instead you evaluate the bulk of the game and judge it based off of that because if the cogs don’t work properly, you aren’t going to have a working machine, no matter what it does.

If people only looked at the big, we would only see the same thing time and time again. If you go back to my “What a rip off” article, I mention the qualities of ripping off other games. It is these small intricacies that differentiate those games from their original concepts.

As such, the tools of making a great game are applying the right tools for the player to enjoy a functional, yet enjoyable gameplay experience, you don’t have to make the gameplay spectacular to pull that off. The reason why I gave Star Ocean 5 a “great” rating was for that very reason. I had fun playing through the game despite the lack of move options and the inability to stagger enemies simply because the game was designed well enough to add an element of challenge, something which in all honesty may well be the most executed out of all of the games in the series in my opinion. Is it perfect? Perhaps not.

Break Mode

If we look at Valkyrie Profile 2 for example, that game uses break mode to allow unlimited attacks for a short period of time, perhaps Star Ocean needs to do the same thing with staggering, they tried it with Star Ocean 4 but I find that they will need to do the opposite in order to succeed. Add a gauge that when filled allows enemies to stagger or do what Valkyrie Profile 2 did and make it so that when you break off an enemy’s body part, you can make them stagger for a short period of time allowing you to combo them.

However that alone wouldn’t make the game perfect. I wrote another article before talking about how we could theoretically create the perfect action game and since Star Ocean 5 is an action RPG, this is relevant. One of the games I brought up is one of Star Ocean 5’s competitor’s, Tales Of Xillia which by holding a certain button, it changes the moveset of the character on the fly allowing for a more varied moveset. This is what the Star Ocean series needs in my opinion, however I cannot deny that Star Ocean 5 was a step in the right direction and you shouldn’t either, removing the stagger-lock was the first step to creating a better game… but it’s not a complete step. People need to realize that these things take time, tri-Ace are probably trying to find some new way to improve this as we speak. Instead of complaining about it we should see the merits of its intentions and move on.

ryudo 2

I’m not just saying this because I’m a Star Ocean/tri-Ace fanboy (which I am). Tri-Ace have made mistakes just like any other developer. In my opinion, that mistake was teaming up with SEGA and making Resonance Of Fate but as a fan of tri-Ace, I’m not going to discredit them just for one game because I know that they are capable of more than that, plus I know that they’re all human beings and human beings make mistakes. This is an undeniable fact, game developers aren’t gods, they are people just like me and you, so appreciate the effort they put into the game by showing a level of respect worthy of that effort but to truly respect the game, you have to look at the small intricacies that make the game so good/bad in the first place because believe it or not while most of us gamers don’t pay attention to these things, developers do, there is a reason for every single little thing they add to a game and you may or may not understand those reasons, nor will you even notice all the things they add to the game.

As someone who knows very little about the intricacies of game development, I cannot say I can completely understand everything, however I consider myself a theorist. It makes things more fun that way. I don’t need to know the exact reason, I just need to know what works and what doesn’t. That is what I do. Though I do want to explore the theory behind why certain game design decisions were made and why certain intricacies and features were included. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I haven’t found a good enough format in which to do so. Hopefully one of these days, I will be able to get face to face with these developers and learn the truth but the chances of that happening are very low.

So remember, games are supposed to be as good as they can be for what they are. You can’t expect everybody to be as accomplished as Arnold Schwarzenegger and the same applies to videogames. Learn to appreciate things more rather than nitpicking about every little thing and calling it out as bad.