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.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.