Saturday, June 25, 2016

Upgrading expectations

Well, my first blog post typed out on my new computer. I'm still getting used to the keyboard...

It has been about seven years since I got my last computer, so I was overdue for an upgrade...right? I mean, trying to run Skyrim at single-digit framerates isn't exactly appealing. It was old, it was tired, it was creaky, and now it's sitting off to the side gathering dust.

So, yes, I did need an upgrade. And I hope that this new PC lasts just as long, if not longer. As a matter of fact, it should. Not in the sense that I'm going to take special care of it to make it live long, but in the understanding that all gaming platforms should have that kind of longevity.

This is where I toss out a term that so many critics misuse and misunderstand - consumer friendliness. Consumer friendliness is about maximizing the value of consumer purchases, which really should be self evident. So if someone buys a PC or a game console, someone who advocates for consumer friendliness should be advocating for it to have as long a usage life as possible, with all that comes with it.

Of course, people want to know about graphical upgrades, but here's the thing. We've reached a point where graphics are great. Even indie titles can use the cheap Unity engine, and with the proper art direction they can look fantastic by almost any standard. The race for better graphics should be a null issue; no one should care.

People still do, because people cling to what they know. And there was a time when the push for improved graphics was necessary, because what could be done was relatively crude. I know, I was there. These days, there's not much room for graphical upgrades. Textures and definition are reaching the point where most people honestly will never notice the change from one console generation to the next.

And yet, the gaming market, as enforced by AAA titles, keeps pushing the graphical envelope even when there's not a lot of point. Upgrades that aren't strictly necessary, because the games could be made without them. And consoles and PCs would still wear out and need replacing, so there's no reason why things need to keep being upgraded.

That is not consumer friendly. And the longer it goes on, the less consumer friendly it becomes. I want to see advances in gameplay and story, mechanics and presentation. This does not need new hardware. It may have once, but not any more. And anyone - anyone - who says otherwise doesn't understand the current state of gaming. (Or, for the more cynical, they are just trying to fleece money out of you.)

Either way, I will enjoy my new PC. Here's to another seven years of gaming, writing, blogging, and whatever else I do on it. And I sincerely hope you get the same out of your gaming machine, whatever it is.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Random number gameplay

All praise the random number gods...right?

Games like Hearthstone are very much dependent on random factors. While some passionately argue that skill at such games trumps the effects of luck, and that players should specifically tailor their play around the randomness of card draw. The question then becomes "how do you do that?"

The key is that there are three answers that players have come up with for this question. The first is to fill your card deck with cheap aggressive cards to take control of the game and punish your opponent for not playing fast enough - the aggro decks. Insert your curses about face hunter here, since this also has the side effect of making the randomness work against your opponent by limiting the turns he has to draw answers.

The second approach is fill your deck with strong card draw tools that allow you to get whatever cards you need, regardless of what cards you start with. This kind of thing has been met by heavy nerfs (hi there, miracle rogue), so clearly it's frowned on. The third is to basically use removal and control cards to extend the game as long as possible, so that card draw will eventually even out over the course of a whole game. Control decks are here for you.

So, to take a step back from Hearthstone, this is actually a sign of player behavior when faced with random factors. Given everything else, the logical conclusion is that players gravitate towards whatever playstyle mitigates the randomness of RNG-based obstacles.

I'm no less guilty of this myself. It's why I play Amber so much in Armello - my entire strategy is about mitigating the randomness of perils in order to move around the board that much more easily. Other people I see run the Dig amulet when they want Spirit Stones. And there are fewer and fewer players trying for kingslayer victories...because it's too random for them.

The fact is that random factors in gameplay exist, at least in the minds of many players, just so they can figure out ways around them. And when they can't, outrage erupts, leading to arguments over what is the "right" amount of randomness.

I think that game designers need to account for this in the future. People don't mind randomness; what they dislike is randomness controlling the outcome, invalidating the player's own skill and choice. If faced with a random factor, they'll take whatever option weighs the odds in their favor. And me, I can't blame them. Video games are about empowering audience participation, and gamers are the audience.

So roll the dice if you want, but you may want to pick a game where you can add a bonus to your dice roll. Because when all's said and done, you may not find the dependency on luck to be all that enjoyable.