Modern Warfare was a great game. It took an aging concept, put it in a modern setting, gave it some very memorable characters, an redefined reinvention. Modern Warfare 2 was a decent follow-up, but it seemed to me that the set pieces were more frequent, the situations were more dire, the settings were more hazardous, and most helicopters that flew or tried to rescue someone crashed in a fantastic cacophony of churning metal, flying debris and a giant ball of fire. Modern Warfare 3, frankly, was ridiculous. The set pieces seemed to outnumber the amount of time players actually had control of their character, and this time, every rescuing helicopter crashed, and the passengers always survived unscathed.
I am using the series as an example, but it seems to be that first person shooters (single-player obviously, not multi-player) are more about the fantastic spectacle and less about the challenge. At first it was some form of explosion or crash or ambush. Then it morphed into larger set pieces with collapsing structures and manic car chase sequences. Battlefield 3 took it up several notches by collapsing skyscrapers during a devastating earthquake, and oh-so-shockingly, the protagonist survives the building crashing on him. I can go off on a tangent here and talk about why every first person shooter hero seems to have skin made out of Adamantium, but that is a topic for another post.
Maybe I am using a frame of reference limited to the FPS titles I have been exposed to in the last year, but the pattern is pretty apparent to me: make a massive spectacle, a sequence so insanely improbable and outlandish that one can’t help but marvel at their screen. I think the only time that a set piece actually gave me goosebumps and fit very well into the story arc was *SPOLER ALERT* in Crysis, when the mountain slowly deteriorates in the distance, shaking off skyscrapers-sized boulders and the colossal alien ship encased within rears its extraterrestrial head. /*SPOLER ALERT* Outside of that, every time I lose control of my character because they need to narrowly escape death in one fashion or another, is a nuisance and hindrance more than anything else. But then again, perhaps the worst type of spectacle is the one when you actually do have control of your character during a spectacle sequence, because you don’t know if dodging bullets and dispatching baddies in a meticulous fashion should be your top priority or watching the insanity of the spectacle unfold.
This was supposed to be a “thought of the day” post, so allow me to be succinct: the fact of the matter is that first person shooters are increasingly more about the spectacle, and less about the challenge/story/experience. And with the never-ending race for creating the next best engine, that is not likely to change any time soon.
“But y’know, I haven’t gotten the WoW Faithful all in a tizzy by saying something bad about their beloved game, so I figured I’d shoot out a post anyway.
The Worgen quest line has possibly been even more hand-holdy than the Night Elf quest line is! There are some quests that literally task you to click on a vehicle. Once you do, your character jumps in, goes on a canned ride where you have no control, then jumps out in front of a quest NPC that you have to click on to finish the quest. SUCCESS! You’re an awesome wolfie, you pulled it off! It’s like an MMO for pre-schoolers.”
“What MMOs Can Learn From Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” or “The Themepark vs. Sandbox Debate Continues”
Part of an ongoing series; previous entries:
An Iterative Process of Improvement
I recently finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I have played every major game in the series and each successive iteration continues to build upon the strengths of the one prior, while (attempting to) eliminate the flaws. As I mentioned before in the mini-review, the biggest improvement is the combat. The first two games required you to passively sit there, waiting for your opponent to strike and then time a counter to kill him instead, and over the course of time that became very frustrating. I especially hated the penultimate battles of Assassin’s Creed II. It took forever to wipe out a group of guards because all you had to go on was counter-kills. Brotherhood changed that up by introducing execution streaks, where once you got a kill, either by counter-killing or aggressively chain-attacking, you could chain that into a series of potentially endless moves that would offensively dispatch your foes around you. There is nothing more satisfying than taking out seven or eight guards in a row without any of them having stood of chance of so much as attacking you, let alone harming you.
I am beginning to go off-topic. My point is that each game was better than it’s predecessor, and Brotherhood was no exception. I was very pleasantly surprised by the improvements and thoroughly enjoyed the game, especially considering this latest installments was designed with a completion obsessive compulsive player in mind. It’s like Christmas came early!
Optional Quest Objectives
One of the cool new things brotherhood introduced was the choice of completing the mission in a very linear manner, the way the game intends, or using your own ingenuity to tackle the problem. If you follow what the game wants you to do exactly, which, at times, can be quite difficult, you get 100% synchronization with the Animus. if you don’t follow the optional objective and play it out the way you felt like it, you got only 50% synchronization.
A few days prior, I made a post in which I gave an example of having variable quest objectives to make the world feel more natural. In short, what if the NPC you interacted with asked you to kill as many mobs as you could to help the town against <insert antagonist faction> invasion. You can kill one, or two, or five or twenty, and you are given quest rewards, experience and currency based on how many mobs you killed. A commenter pointed out that grinding the mobs will likely be the most desirable solution, so most players will gravitate towards the option with the most rewards, and as such quest designer wouldn’t consider such a system. The feasibility of this idea merits another conversation, suffice it to say that quest structure in MMOs (in my humble opinion) needs an overhaul. We have the technology (such as phasing), we have the hardware, and we have the colossal development teams. Yet no one has been able to crack the formula of putting every last player through precisely the same content with little variation.
One thing that Brotherhood does, and does quite well, is the concept of optional 100% synchronization. You are sent on an assassination mission. You can kill your target in a wide variety of ways. You can attack him with brute force, tearing down everything around you to get to him. You can use a ranged weapon. You can methodically wipe out all the guards in the area, till there is no one left but him. You have the freedom of choice. But if you want the “additional reward” of 100% synchronization, you must kill him while blended into the crowd, sitting on a bench, and you must assassinate the target without being detected.
The 50% synchronization scenario is much easier to execute and requires little thinking on the player’s part, but it doesn’t reward you as well. The 100% synchronization takes planning, time and solid execution, but rewards you much better.
I think this is something MMOs can learn from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Give players the option of completing the quest objectives any way they see fit (the sandbox paradigm), or in the exact manner you intend, which would be tougher and most time-costly (the theme-park paradigm). Purists will of course argue that this inevitably favors the theme-park side of things. But let us not forget that the theme-park oriented solution requires additional planning, time and coordination. I personally feel that this will give more flexibility to the game, in terms of giving players, who already feel that their entire experience is too on-rails, the freedom of choice for solving their quest objectives. The only people who will be forced to follow the 100% synchronization, there-park oriented path will be obsessive compulsive completionists like me, and I am quite OK with that!
Thoughts on the idea?
Bonus discussion question: What if the rewards could vary, not necessarily get better or worse, with how you complete the quest objectives?
With all the debate about whether themepark of sandbox MMOs are better, what if someone were to create a title where you could control your experience? You could actually choose if you wanted it to be completely on-rails from glitzy start to epic finish, or if you wanted to go off of the beaten path, either altogether, or in small doses. Would that shut everyone up?