I was trading off playing between Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) this week with a bit of The Secret World (TSW) and recalling many of the frequent comments from players lamenting that MMORPGs had become “too easy” and “too casual.” It’s an interesting assertion since these two games in particular have a very different feel as far as difficulty is concerned. LOTRO questing is in many ways similar to the World of Warcraft in that expeditions are on the “easy” side – it’s pretty straightforward taking down the bad guys or collecting relics on the beach or whatever the game asks of you; but the feel of the game is more calm and relaxing. There’s certainly a nice aspect that; causally exploring the countryside, taking in the view of distant ruins or mountains while hunting boar hides is a mode of questing that can be a nice reprieve, especially after a stressful day, or as a nice way to get rolling in the morning with a cup of java.
Well, I think I’m going to go completely off the rails this week and talk about ways to completely unbalance a game. A big part of an MMOs development team’s time seems to be taken up with balancing each of the classes in an MMO. The reasoning behind this is pretty obvious – if one class is “the most powerful,” most players will pick it, and nobody will play those weaker classes. A good example of this might be the Jedi class in the now closed Star Wars Galaxies. It was so head and shoulders above the rest of those classes, that Jedi populations skyrocketed.
Partially due to the effort to balance classes, there typically are limits on the number of races and classes made available in a game. The more races and classes available, the harder it is to keep on those classes in sync and on par with one another.
But what if both those constraints were removed?
The whole Newtown tragedy got me thinking a bit recently regarding the combat-centric emphasis of most video games. I won’t get into a discussion here about whether combat should be eliminated from games or not – I think it’s probably unrealistic at worst, and undesirable at best. There have been many articles about violence in games before as well; just Google it and you’ll come up with plenty.
Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed are the games people first scrutinize (or blame) when these tragedies arise, but combat in games go back to very aborignal games – you could say Risk, Galaga, or even PacMan had something of a “combat” focus – you were certainly fighting an adversary, and conflict is certainly necessary in any form of literature, and even art in general. Combat versus monsters or dragons is a bit more acceptable, since they aren’t “real” in the sense that other people are—again, more reasons why Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto are the ones that get the most attention.