Saturday, March 3, 2007

Game Geek: I Like It Hard and Long, so Kill Me.

Hard, as in difficult. Long, as in...well...long.

Nowadays, a lot of games, especially console games, can be beaten in ten to twelve hours. They're designed that way. The games industry believes that people don't want to play long games. I think that's true...if the game sucks.

MMOs, like World of Warcraft prove that people want to play a game for months. Once a player is engaged in a satisfying gaming experience, they want it to go on forever. Or at least, as long as it's still fun. The fun part is tricky. It's so tricky, Raph Koster wrote a whole book to explain to people what makes games fun.

Last night, I had fun. I spent about six hours playing Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. I'd been craving it since I read the article in Gamasutra about the golden age of computer role-playing games that I mentioned in a previous post. I never beat Wizardry when I was a kid, so I figured now with all my extensive gaming experience, and the help of the internet, it should be pretty easy. Um, It's still really hard.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Wizardry is the standard "party of six heroes descend (slowly) through a dungeon of monsters to defeat an evil wizard" game. Except, I'm pretty sure, Wizardry is the game that created the standard.

By the time I went to sleep at 3AM, all my characters were level 8. Only level 8. After six hours of play. For comparison, if you play World of Warcraft for six hours you will probably have reached level 30. I shouldn't say probably. That's a solid number based on research from Xerox Parc. In fact, in WOW, you can reach level 60, the highest level, in twenty hours.

I'll be honest, if it wasn't for the save state function on my emulator, I wouldn't even be that far. In Wizardry, when one of your characters is killed, they are dead. That's it. Roll a new character. I, of course, cheated, just like I did back in the eighties by making copies of the save file so that if one of my characters died I could just restore the game.

But I kinda wish I wouldn't have. Accepting that your character can die forever, is a completely different way of thinking about role-playing. You can't get emotionally attached to your characters. They die. You punch your computer. You create a new character and add them to the party. You become more cautious about encountering powerful monsters. You run away more often. You don't bully through the game, you assess risks, you think strategically. You learn to accept losses.

Modern gamers never have to accept losses, they just hit restore.

Character death is a game dynamic that I'd like to see return to games. Right now, RPGs are focused on process, i.e. building up character's experience, rather then the ultimate goal, defeating the game. That makes perfect sense for neverending MMOs. But in a standalone title, refocusing the player on achieving the goal and having then make the necessary sacrifices, such as the death of your super-awesome archmage, to achieve that goal would be refreshing, and IMHO, truer to life.

Ooh! I just came up with a name for a game of this type: Dungeon Fodder. I claim it, it's mine, so all you greasy handed, grabby game developers better back off, or I'll have to kill your Night Elf.