MMORPGs – thinking time

A discussion has started this weekend about thinking and pace in MMORPGs.  Keen raised this issue in a post about a recent Everquest experience. He writes about the different pace of play in Everquest and how that enables a more thoughtful approach to combat. Bhagpuss elaborates further on this theme in his follow-up post. I particularly liked the theatrical metaphor for how much more directive games seem to have become:

Players and developers alike have come to expect overt, clear signals in the form of ground markers, circles, cones, colors and written or spoken instructions. We’ve gone from improvisational theater to an on-book recital with cue-cards and a prompt.

I’ve certainly noticed this apparent evolution in games, the most obvious example from my experience would be World of Warcraft. In more recent expansions boss fight mechanics in dungeons have evolved significantly with more abilities to learn, more bad stuff to dodge out of and more “instant-wipe” mechanics.

Jeromai has posted a response stating that there is still the opportunity to think about combat, at least before or afterwards, and to thereby adjust tactics or the approach for next time. He states that “Thinking has nothing to do with the pace.” I can understand Jeromai’s point, certainly having slow combat doesn’t mean an individual will actually bother to do more thinking – Keen’s anecdote of the Everquest encounter supports this point of view.

Try thinking in that lot...

Try thinking in that lot…

I still feel that “thinking time”, as opposed to thinking – a.k.a the amount of thought you give to combat, can be an issue if gameplay has indeed sped up. The more active we are in dodging or interrupting stuff, the faster-paced the combat is and the more we’re having to maximise our activity then surely the less time we can spend thinking and observing? There’s an individual element to this; all players have different reaction times, both physically and mentally. Also some players may thrive on frantic activity whereas others want a slower pace of gaming.

Learning or devising strategies for complex fights requires thinking for sure, but it also requires seeing the fight and observing the various mechanics, telegraphs etc. If you’re so busy “just playing your class” that you can’t really take in what is happening around you then I’d say it’s not purely the player that is at fault, the encounter design isn’t necessarily helping matters. Naturally it’s possible to do prep beforehand by reading or watching videos but I haven’t always found that helpful if I’m not able to link those instructions with how it actually looks on my own screen in realtime.

I think that this issue is why I’ve retreated into certain games of late instead of embracing newer titles. I’ve been having a lot of fun in SWTOR, LOTRO and Rift – all of which have slower combat. The Tokyo content in TSW may simply require thought about my character’s build and some gear adjustments, but to me it also just seems more frenetic than earlier zones. Likewise the Icewind Dale zone in Neverwinter broke a year long stint in that game because the content was tuned harder and more gear-dependent, not as a slow ramp-up, but as an abrupt step-change.

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One Response to MMORPGs – thinking time

  1. bhagpuss says:

    It’s been an interesting discussion and a helpful one in clarifying what I’m feeling about the direction MMOs have taken over the past few years. Jeromai’s rebuttal really made me think about what I was saying and realize that “thinking” wasn’t precisely the right word (ironically!). My second comment on his post gets as close as I’ve come to explaining it although I still don’t feel I quite have it nailed.

    The difference between thinking about the moment and thinking in the moment that you point up is also very significant. One of the compelling things about EQ’s gameplay was that mostly things proceeded at a relatively stately pace, during which you had plenty of time to observe, consider and formulate a plan of action, but at any time things could go suddenly, catastrophically wrong, at which point you’d need to move to bullet time.

    That contrast was exhilarating and the constant awareness that it could happen with virtually no warning meant that, even when nothing much seemed to be happening, you needed to remain constantly alert – especially as a healer or primary crowd control. When everything is in bullet time from the opening shot, maintaining that level of concentration stops being entertaining and becomes onerous, at least for me.

    I think Jeromai is correct that it is possible. I see people apparently doing it. I think, though, like most activities, the faster you are asked to do them, the fewer people will be able to cope. It’s a self-selecting process when it happens in a leisure activity; either you enjoy it enough to get better at it (at least until you run into the buffers of your physical ability) or you don’t, in which case you drop it and do something else instead. Your comments on which MMOs you choose to play support that.

    At the moment I am not out of my personal comfort zone with most MMO combat. I can do it well enough to enjoy it. I am close enough to the edge, though, to see where that is likely to stop. Also I have a good enough recall (and documentation) to convince me that, yes, I did enjoy it more the way it used to be. There is surely plenty of room in the market for a whole range of approaches, though, so I’m optimistic that new MMOs will keep appearing that suit me better than some of the recent ones.

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