Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Skipping combat

Side note: what is the clear sign that you like blogging and going to continue? If you have an idea you want to write about and then you look at the schedule of pre-written posts and say, "Oh, which one to delay for this". Thanks to EVE, I'm in this position now, having more than a week of posts in various states of preparation. But I must write this now. I'm already overdue.

From the title you might figured that this post is about the hate campaign against Jennifer Hepler. I did not considered it an interesting topic first, as "sexist idiots being sexists idiots" doesn't sound interesting.

Thanks to the noise they made, the idea of Ms Hepler reached me, for good as it's probably one of the best I've ever heard. It tells that you shall be able to skip combat in MMOs. Of course it should be implemented the very same way as skipping dialogs or skipping reading the license agreement: just because you skipped, it applies to you. So if I encounter a bunch of boars and choose to skip combat, I can see my combat log running with extreme speed and soon I see bunch of dead boars or a dead character on the screen.

Why would anyone be bothered by such change? What is the source of hate against the creator of the idea? I mean I don't care if someone skips reading the hilarious text of the EVE mission to transport homeless to somewhere else, out of sight. The hate and despise that the mission agent (questgiver) expresses towards the bums is perfectly written and clearly touching me. I am not running some curier mission for standing, I'm saving a a space station from the worst plight: the M&S. But if you skip it and care nothing but that few 10K ISK and 0.02 standing, I'm fine with you. I don't think you are a cheater or unorthy of rewards.

Why combat is not already skippable and be ran by auto-calculation? Why is the huge rejection against it? I mean sexist idiots are usually being sexist idiots but something has clearly kicked the beehive this time. Considering that Ms Hepler was a female game developer for years without such outrage, it must be the idea itself.

The reason lies in the hate against Strand of Ancients, it lies on the bridge of Arathi Basin and the middle of Eye of the Storm. Literally, in the form of skeletons. The optimal strategy on these maps is using vehicles, defending or capturing objectives. Yet serious part of the players clearly ignore it and initiate rather pointless PvP combat in some uninteresting area, or in EoS, to capture the flag that has near-zero outcome of the battle. These people are ready to lose in order to get into combat. For some reason this combat thing is extremely important to them. Why?

Combat is an obvious way of showing off superiority. When I win (and I dare to write "I" and not "we") Alterac Valley by directing people to the proper places and delaying the capture of Dun Baldar bunkers and flag by several minutes, my superiority is rather impersonal and theoretical. If you clearly understand what is going on in AV and you saw me calling the objectives and defending the bridge head, then you could come to the conclusion: "yes, that guy won it for us, in a sense that if we'd replace him with a random, it would have much-much bigger effect on the outcome than replacing anyone else". I'm a thinking person and I'm very happy with this definition. I am happy even if no one bothers to or capable of recognizing my performance.

If you bash someones face, you clearly and simply shown superiority over that person to him and the spectators. If some peer would be watching your monitor, he would come to the conclusion without doubt that you are superior player than your opponent, while - unless he is proficient with AV strategy - he will most likely say "he chatted a lot and AFK-ed mostly next to the bridge" watching my play.

The idea of skipping combat threatens these simple people of losing their simple and straightforward measure of worth. They would have to accept something more subtle and complicated measuring system that may or may not be possible for them, but what matters most: make gaming unable to display elite status to peers. I mean xXnubpwnzorXx is able to learn the signaling value of toplists, titles and reward mounts but his buddies clearly don't without explanation. Explaining them that "I got this dragon for killing the hardest of enemies" is more complicated and less convincing than simply killing an opponent right front of them.

The non-existence of peers makes it just worse. The social person always show off to peers, even if they are not present. The "I must wear make-up, to feel good about myself" is a simple example of showing off to non-present peers. The thinking behind it is "what would they say if they'd see me". Peers who are there are giving feedback, even with a smile or gesture. If a guy is standing next to me, I can explain him how AV works and can see the moment on his face when he understands why was I right there were I was. But if he is not there, you must go for overkill. You need a display that cannot be questioned.

These creatures wanted to devastate the "skipping combat" idea (and not the author of it), because they are social so want to impress peers and because they can't explain anything to peers since they don't have any: they are sitting behind a computer screen. Alone.

The PuG update: remember that you can join our cross server BWD HM run!


Anonymous said...

I agree that this is probably the motivation behind much of the anger. But I think there are legitimate reason to be against the idea as well. I personally couldn't care less about stories in games. If I want a good story then I will watch a good movie or read a novel. When I play a game I am only interested in the game play mechanics.

So the reason I would be against the implementation of such a mode is that it implies that the story must stand on it's own, independent of the quality of the game play. Now that in and of itself is not something I am against, but the majority of games have limited development time and funding. If they must spend more money to hire better writers and develop an actual quality story then that will steal funding and focus from the development of the game play mechanics, which is all I care about.

We already have many 'cinematic' games where game play is relatively throw away, the player has no meaningful choices to make and the story is front and center. If this idea takes hold then I am afraid that will become the norm.

Azuriel said...

That was the most strained, convoluted argument I have ever seen in print.

Even if everyone was able to skip combat, there would still be people doing PvP, there would still be the social accolades. I do not believe even Jennifer Hepler was suggesting that one could "spacebar" through Honor/Justice gear.

The intellectual issue at hand with her game design suggestion is the exact one most people criticize the M&S for: the desire of an I-WIN button. If you could press a button and receive reward for (literally this time!) no effort, who wouldn't be pressing said button? And even if you believe yourself to be principled enough to resist, the fact remains that the temptation would always be there. More importantly, everyone else would be using it, which would put you at a relative disadvantage over your fellow players.

The deeper issue, IMO, is how the developers would implicitly have less incentive to actually make questing and combat interesting and fun, given that their mistakes can be spacebar'd away. Don't like Firelands dailies? Who cares, just spacebar.

Gevlon said...

@Azuriel: if you auto-combat a raidboss, you probably die. You can only auto-combat trivial enemies, including trasmob on Arathi Bridge.

Ray said...

what's wrong with trying to impress other people? For example, impress your boss with your work, or teacher with your effort, or fans with your skill (music or sport)? It may make you social, but the important thing is you do a good job, don't care with the motivation.

Andru said...

I think you got it all backwards. You're just taking the "socials are bad mmkay" square peg and trying to fit it into round holes again.

Here's why. In most MMOs, combat is actually a function with many, many, many variables. In essence, combat in a "non skipping" scenario assumes as few variables as possible, and lets the player fill up the rest, willingly or unwillingly.

Now, if the designer wants some people to skip, he must make the game assume some, if not all of the variables that come into play in combat. In theory, such a rational designer would have to assume that those variables would be the weighted average of who he expects to use that 'skip' option.

And therein lies the problem. The 'good' people would do better if they didn't skip combat, while the 'bad' people would do worse. The rational choice would be, if you're good, to not skip, and if you're bad, to skip.

However, this will skew the above idea that the input variables are an average. Meaning that, if the designer doesn't alter his variable input for the 'skip' algorithm, he is, essentially, supporting the 'no moron left behind' policy, designer-mandated boosting.

If he does alter the input, he risks making the 'skip' option ineffective, due to its vicious circle of driving above average people to manual combat.

Now, the second outcome is obviously bad, because you'll end up with a 'skip' combat option that no one will use.

Why is designer-mandated boosting bad, in a MMO, then?

Because the people who are boosted are THE ONES who want to discriminate others like them. Arthasloldk wants other arthasloldks to see him as a 'cool peep'. With designer boosting, he sees that everyone gets the same shinies, and he can't stand it, *even if he was the receiver of designer boosting himself*!

Need I remind you the Gearscore? Needing ICC25HC gearscore to do ICC10 normal in PUGs? This is PRECISELY that effect. Recipients of designer-boosting do not want other recipients of designer-boosts.

What's more, the designer is interested in keeping all arthasloldks in the game. They give money. Driving them away with sanctioning "dat fukkin cheater has da same tings as me" is simply moronic. Trying to argue to them why the policy does not hurt 'good' people is futile.

He's not good in the first place! He's completely right, for once. This policy is completely against his interests. Why would he accept it?

The 'no moron left behind' policy is bad precisely because it pisses off morons. No one is going to accept that they're a moron. It's always "the other guy getting boosted by the designers."

Andru said...

Now, this whole storm in a teacup started over a single player game. All these considerations don't matter there. It's not like 'idspispopd' sparked a controversy in Doom. The cheat codes were always there. In a single-player game there aren't even any peers! Not even imaginary ones. Why the rage then?

I think that it is because, even in single player games, if you cater to the lowest common denominator, you end up with poorly balanced games. Dragon Age 2, for example was rather easy even on the hardest difficulty setting. (Also its writing was horrible, and the environments were rushed: -one- cave reused over and over again for all the caves in the game, the whole release screamed of "GIF MOAR MONEY NAO")

Casual gamers don't want to learn the game. They want to 'play' the game. Some of them don't understand that 'learning' is part of 'playing'. Since casual gaming is a huge market fit for milking (Hi Zynga, hi Maxis), designers keep doing the same stuff that sells, and that pleases the casuals and pisses off (elitist, oldschool, real) gamers to no end, since they're not even the target audience of games anymore.

In the past, cheat codes were a way for the designer to show that they are part of the same 'elitist' circle as the gamers. A cheat code was called a *cheat* code, not a legitimate way of playing for people who can't tell that 1+1=2.

This might be pretentiousness, but, in all honesty, I can't help but feel a bit cheated myself.

Gesh said...

First of all, skipping combat is nothing new, I guess you know about heroes of might and magic. The retarded auto combat could lose an archangel against 25 gremlins, but still existed.

Second, given the fact that this woman was writing for single player games, I think she was speaking about single player games. I'm not sure that even M&S would get an ego boost if they pwn a CPU player, because you cannot hurt its feelings, you cannot write to it 'UMAD BRO?', etc. etc.
In summary your argument has weak points.

Anonymous said...

How the hell did this move into MMO territory? Hepler was talking about single player games.

I play games because I find it fun. But there is an immense amount of people who readily admit that they "suffer through" gameplay that they hate in order to get "rewarded" by the story. Why they don't just watch movies, I don't know.

These people can't tell the difference between good, challenging gameplay, snorefest easy "gameplay" or just plain terribly implemented failure. But they keep buying games that they hate playing, so that they can fantasize and/or write fan fiction about Character A fucking Character B.

Game companies, of course, notice that shitty games still sell well as long as you include something vaguely resembling a story and plenty of fuckable characters, and release shitty games.

The advent of a "skip gameplay, go directly to cutscene" button will only aggravate this.

So I say, it's not analogous to pvp, it's more like raiding: The dimwitted hordes want "reward" without effort, and are catered to at the expense of the people who want to play a game.

Anti said...

i'm waiting for....

"PUG Update : We are moving to EvE Online"

Some major null sec alliances have shown (or at least claim) having cultural ties outside of EVE makes them stronger because people are less likely to become a traitor to a group they existing loyalties to.

Goons, Russians(and other racially homogenous groups) all seem to work better because they are tight knit.

It would be interesting to see if a group of goblins has similar success.

NetherLands said...

I agree that this is probably the motivation behind much of the anger. But I think there are legitimate reason to be against the idea as well.

I agree to this. Your analysis on why e.g. people emote-spam in BG's, are obsessed with BG dmg boards (even though Bases Assaulted etc. are, although still not perfect, much more in line with the actual objectives) and Arena in general are probably correct.

While I understand where Ms. Harper is coming from, the problem is that if you make every part of a game in a sense skippable, it stops being a game and becomes more one of those 'Choose Your Own Adventure'-books, which had only a few possible outcomes pre-determined by the author.

In a sense the (debatable) evolution from Choose books to gamebooks (Fighting Fantasy) to computer adventure games would become a circle, with the consumer becoming a passive consumer again.

There's certainly a market for Choose books but it's the question wether computers are the right medium for them or wether more paasive consumers is what we should be aiming for.

Anonymous said...

Anti, what kind of loyalty do you expect from goblins? I would imagine that any real goblin would betray you if it was more profitable for them.

Anonymous said...

You're completly wrong. First the hate wasn't sexist. That woman said "your're just jelly that im a game dev and have a vagina"
that's poking the beehive and naturally she got commends according to it.
Second it was never about mmos but Singleplayer. A fps/action game without combat is a movie/book. You don't need a game then you can simply work in the prefered medium.
The fear was that the direction is robo homolust novel with skipable casual combat. No serious gamer want's that.

Kacper said...

I just wanted to point out that these are the same people who rage on Blizz boards about the removal of farmable skill runes in Diablo 3 (now they will apparently just appear with each level), as it would be one more thing they could show off. This (the forum rage) demonstrates the interesting psychological phenomenon of feeling the loss of something you never actually had and holding people up to promises they never made.

Also I agree with Anon that I don't see the skippable combat suggestion applying to MMOs in the foreseeable future.

As a side note I'd like to say that as an RPG enthusiast I really hated games like Mass Effect 2 or Dragon Age 2 (to a lesser extent The Witcher 2) where the cutscenes went on forever and the story choices presented were either extremely constrained or idiotic. I'm looking at you DA2: "Do you want to slaugter all the mages or slaughter all the templars? Choose wisely."

Article suggestion: skipping combat in EVE. To what extent is it possible for various occupations? What are some methods of doing it?

Camo said...

The quotes from the interview (via this post):

"Similarly, I'm really terrible at so many things which most games use incessantly -- I have awful hand-eye coordination, I don't like tactics, I don't like fighting, I don't like keeping track of inventory, and I can't read a game map to save my life."

So she is unable to perform the tasks in a game - nothing wrong with that, don't play. What you want to finish the game despite being able to?

"If he aims for a goal, he must do the necessary effort and have the necessary skill to reach this goal. If he can't do it, he is either a moron or a slacker."

"If you could tell developers of games to make sure to put one thing in games to appeal to a broader audience which includes women, what would that one thing be?"

A broader audience? Like making raiding appealing for everyone and introducing LFR?
The only way to open up a game to a broader audience is to lower the required effort as smart players won't try things they are unable to do.

And what shit is the linked article?
A feminist calling ALL gamers misogynist? Never heard that before...

The other post is even worse:

"Well, y’know what? FUCK THAT. I use my cheat codes. I like ME3’s story mode. And you know what else? That doesn’t make me any less a gamer than these dipshits bitching about faggy storylines and other assorted bullshit like that. And if these people don’t like it? Well, tough nuggets; that’s how it is."

That sound much like Arthasloldk:
"I don't put in the effort but that doesn't make me any less a gamer than you. If you don't like it? Too bad, deal with it!"

"Because then it’s not as awesome that they can beat the game; they don’t have the bragging rights anymore because anyone can just skip the combat and reach the end. It’s like they think the difficulty of the game not only makes them special and awesome, but that it’ll keep out the ‘undesirable element’."

Bragging? No, but it removes the effort. It makes any effort put into figuring out what to do a waste of time.
You found a different way to beat heroic Morchok? How to do missions in EVE without the risk of low/null sec?
Cool story, I pushed a button.
Yes, difficulty keeps out the 'undesireable element'.
Not the women that play games and put in the effort but the scum of the earth, the morons and slackers.

Ulsaki said...

(Submitted again because it looks like the first one didn't go through correctly.)

There's much more to the Hepler situation than simply "sexist idiots being sexist idiots".

Firstly Hepler's comments were referring to a single player game. They also betray her lack of understanding of what players want; there is a good reason why players might want to skip dialogue and cutscenes and get back to the action. Players wanting to skip the action are comparatively rare, because in most games this ends up to you effectively watching a film... and films tend to pull this off much better. Most games actually sell themselves based on the action they offer to players, and if you remove combat from the equation then you wouldn't have a game at all.

The other issue with Hepler is that she has gone on record (amongst other things of recent...) as stating that she doesn't like playing games. People have reacted very negatively to this remark, and I think there are legitimate reasons for that.

In the same way I would expect a script writer to watch TV programs and films, or an author to read published books, I would expect a game developer to play games. It doesn't matter whether they're a coder, a graphics artist, UI guy, writer, whatever. It doesn't matter if they're a 'casual' or 'hardcore' gamer, or whether they're extremely skilled, or someone without much ability. The important point is that they are a consumer of that form of media and they have a decent understanding of that media. Why? Because you need that understanding to be able to produce quality work.

From what I can tell, a passion for games is generally a standard requirement across the games industry, so it is worrying when someone like Hepler rises to a position of prominence, in what is generally regarded as a reasonably talented studio whose standards appear to be slipping.

With Hepler, it isn't so much what she is personally responsible for - or not - with DA2, but what she represents for Bioware. A badly skilled writer working in the games industry for a medium she doesn't consume or understand, exerting potentially significant creative influence over brands that players had previously enjoyed. That's the real heart of the issue, not moronic internet trolls on a hate campaign.

For the record, I don't really have a problem with her belief that combat should be skippable, as long as this doesn't negatively affect the final product. If you want to skip combat, use cheats, mod the game, play on the easiest setting, etc. then as long as this doesn't lead to a worse experience for me, I don't give a damn.

Lothildin said...

I always liked the Total War games because I loved the "board" part of it, but I hated the "skirmish" part of it. But then, they implemented the "auto resolve" button, where the game calculated the odds of me winning/losing based in the units fightings.
It was much like civilization, only more interesting and less laggy.
I would probably love that concept applied to MMOs.

Peter Petermann said...

in eve you can decide to go totally for a non-combatant career - and i know a handfull of people who do so and enjoy the game.
However even being, lets call 'em civilian (or carebears in evespeak), the cannot skip combat.

If i look at a game like Wow, where you basically have npc-combat and consentual pvp, you most likely could 'skip' combat in that grind-fest.

If i look at eve - no, there is no real safezone in eve for a reason, it is what makes eve eve, and pretty unique for the game. Allowing players to completely opt-out of combat would break the very core of the game.
Even if you'd only allow to skip mission-related-combat, you would remove the oppertunity to kill the mission runner, because the time he needs to run his mission is the time a ganker has to prepare his gank.
Now for the hardcore-carebear there is still the option to do non-combat missions only (couriers) but even there he will allways have the risk of pvp.
and thats a good thing.

Trektar said...

Didn't Mass Effect 3 try to implement a "story mode", a "battle mode" and a "normal mode" with both fighting and story?

I doubt that such a button has a future in a PvP game. If you don't like playing PvP, you don't play PvP. If you want to beat players in PvP without effort, you start cheating (Counterstrike: Aimbot, Wallhack; Warcraft: Maphack), or start sandbagging (losing on purpose and getting ranked/matched against worse players, even if you don't get an ingame reward for winning like in Starcraft 2).

For PvE, why not? But not in WoW, because Blizzard wants the players to fight against quest mobs. It's one of the main parts in the early game and since you pay per month, they aim for a high playtime. In games without a monthly fee I think it's okay. If someone doesn't want to fight a dragon in Skyrim, then he shouldn't need to to play the game.

Andru said...


Indeed it will. However, ME3 isn't released yet, and can't tell how well it will be pulled off.

However, judging from the demo, which I've played and replayed extensively, Insanity(that is, highest difficulty) is quite unforgiving and difficult.

The AI seems a lot better scripted than in ME2. (Though, personally, I would be a lot more impressed if Valve didn't come up with a workable AI for cover-based 'soldier' Half-Life. That's the game from 1997, 15 bloody years ago. Funny.)

I'll make my final judgement on combat after I play it. Fortunately, it seems that miss Helper has no pull within the game-play department.

That leaves the story. We'll see that back then, but I swear, if I see one more idiotic false dichotomy, or whiny, emo, brooding companions (like those in DA2, the only ones who were refreshing and likeable ones were Varric and Snarky! Hawke.), then I'm sorry. There's only so much bad writing I can tolerate, before I snap.

Goodmongo said...

The whole argument to me brought me back to girl sports. We have things called 'chick flicks' for the movies and 'romance novels' for books. In other words there are products that CATER to various consumer groups.

The problem with Helper is that she demands that companies change their products and force them to cater to what she wants. Now if there is a market big enough for it companies will do that. But she shouldn't have the right to demand it.

I mentioned girls sports. Its fine if they play sports. Go for it. But don't demand to change the rules for the guys sport, or demand to play the game with the guys and be given special rights or capabilities (rules) to make it easier for you.

Ephemeron said...

All videogameplay, whether it relates to combat or conversations, can be represented as a series of three repeating steps: the player decides to make a choice, attempts to implement said choice by interacting with the game's interface, and receives feedback from the game based on what her choice was and whether she managed to implement it successfully.

When I use spacebar to skip NPC speeches halfway through in SWToR, ME2 or DA2, what I'm really skipping is immediate feedback. I still get to make and implement my choices, trivial as they may be (picking one response out of 2 or 3 and clicking on it isn't exactly hard - especially in Mass Effect 1 and 2, where the game always sides with Shepherd no matter what) and I still get to live with their long-term consequences in regards to plot.

Therefore, the proper equivalent of skipping such feedback in combat would not be the fast-forward button or the trivialization of difficulty - it would be the option to turn off flashy spell effects, over-the-top death animations, voice acting for battle cries and floating combat text.

(On a semi-related note, Raph Koster's article from a month ago does a fairly good job at explaining why the modern tendency to skew the 'choice-implementation-feedback' - so evident in Bioware's modern games, among others - towards the latter component is essentially bad game design).

Anonymous said...

Amazing how many people want to proscribe how other people play. I know it's great to beat a RPG on hard but if skipping combat is anathema then what about "narrative" mode or "easy" or even "medium"? I honestly couldn't care less how someone else completes their single-player game. It's like monstering someone because they skim read or fast-forward through the opening credits. All that Hepler was talking about was that twitch gamers shouldn't be the only focus for developers. An additional mode skipping combat seems entirely reasonable to me.