Castle Lusipurr #41: Inventiveness

FOSTER'S: It's Australian for TRAP. Why do you think they export so much of it to America?
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…Or, start from the beginning.

One of the major issues I have had with modern games is the big shift from 2D to 3D environments. Okay, I understand that this is no longer an issue with ‘modern’ games–that shift took place more than a decade ago–but to me it still rankles. It has since been joined by other shifts which are just as egregious in their implications, if not more so, than the 2D-3D environment conversion: invasive DRM, DLC (on-disc or otherwise), motion controls, and headache-inducing 3D all come to mind.

Because of my relative distaste for so many of these ‘advances’ (if one can even call them that), some might accuse me of being against innovation. This is not the case. There have been a number of developments which have earned my wholehearted approval. Whilst I still prefer boxed copies of games to their digital counterparts, Steam has shown that it can be done reasonably well–and, that it will keep all users up-to-date with the most recent patches. It has made it possible for Indie developers to share some truly excellent titles with a wide audience–something that would have been nigh-impossible last century.

The medium and graphic fidelity have also improved markedly, as has the attention to localisation, voice acting, and soundtrack. The result is a more professional business which–whilst it has lost some of the campy charm–has more often than not yielded better, not worse, results. The ‘bad’ voice acting of today is significantly less distressing than the bad voice acting of a decade or more ago. The localisations, too, occasionally reach sublime levels. Gone are the days of “They set us up the bomb” and “Displays the explanation of operating procedures to be displayed”, replaced instead with,

Argath: Listen well. A great host, with the Order at its van, prepares a sweeping campaign that will bring to book your turncloak Brigade. You will die. You will be hunted down to the last and slaughtered like the swine you are, for such is brigandry’s reward. But you, pig, are a lucky one. Tell us what we wish to know, and you may yet keep your bacon.

Prisoner: How the bloody hell should I know?

Argath: I’ll not bear your ribald tongue, rogue! Learn to guard it, if you’d not have it cut from your throat!

If that is not a marked improvement, then I do not know what is.

Ultimately, my resistance to new approaches stems from the inability of companies to make those approaches substantially and consistently improve the gaming experience. Motion controls are nothing new: Nintendo toyed with them in the 80s with the Power Glove: it was badly implemented then and resulted in crap–much like today. Whilst there has been more success with such things today, I am hard pressed to find evidence that the advent of motion controls has been the herald of a general improvement contingent upon its arrival. Rather, the reverse seems to be the case. Good motion control games are in the minority, and many otherwise excellent games have been ruined by having only a terrible motion/stylus control scheme to the exclusion of more traditional (and more frequently successful) controls.

The same thing is true of 3D gaming: it has been tried before. It was as useful then as it is now, which is to say not very. Because, unlike the advancements in sound, graphics, localisation, and reactive gameplay (that is, psychological developments in gameplay that increase the amount of fun being had by the participants), the innovations I rubbish above are tacked-on. Seldom do they contribute anything worthwhile to gamers. This is not to say they cannot, but rather that they so infrequently benefit–and so frequently harm–that one cannot help but draw connexions to the failures of the past and hope that, in time, these things too shall pass. Then, perhaps, some developers will focus more upon improving their games rather than upon finding new and innovative ways to cram new and innovative technologies into their otherwise lacklustre creations.

16 Comments

  1. Mel
    Posted 2012.05.25 at 18:50 | Permalink

    This industry has come quite a long way from its earlier days, just like any tech field has. Only this field also is navigating the pit falls of HUGE success. When there’s THIS much money to be made, you get greedy companies trying to bilk people with gimmicks. When the fastest selling PC game of all time (Diablo 3) is also own by the company the published the fastest selling THING in all entertainment (Modern Warfare 3)…well you get shitty design-by-committee ideas bandied about to increase profits by some-odd percentage instead of people who love games making improvements for gaming. It’s not all you get, but Diablo 3 didn’t end up with DRM because Blizzard LOVES its fans…

  2. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.05.25 at 19:06 | Permalink

    @Mel: People keep slinging around the word DRM with Diablo 3 and I’m simply afraid I do not follow. By the same extension, WoW has DRM, as do games like Team Fortress 2. It is all about intent.

    The characters in Diablo III are stored on the server, which makes a lot of sense given the kind of game they are trying to run. I’ve been through the ENORMOUS fucking hassle that was called ‘playing Diablo II with a large group of friends’ back in the day. Everyone had a different kind of character and none of them were compatible. I had to have a different set of characters for every set of friends. I had one friend who refused to play on Battle.net, so I had to have a LAN character for him. Another could only play on B.net, but refused to have verified characters, so I had to have an Open B.Net character for him. Lastly, I had a set of friends who played ‘real’ D2 on the official servers, and I had to have a THIRD set of characters for them! NONE of my friends could play together, so at most I was playing with one other person at a time.

    You can understand why I saw the standardisation of server-side characters as a relief. Especially given that this is something which is completely accepted in many other games without people having a temper tantrum about DRM. (Also, now I know that none of my friends are hacking their characters).

    If Diablo was a game that was primarily designed to be a single-player experience with the multiplayer being an accessory or something added as an afterthought, sure, there might be grounds to complain. But only Diablo I has ever been designed like that, and even then, it was the multiplayer–not the single-player–which gave the game its enormous play value. And where did that multiplayer take place? On Battle.net, which people had to be connected to in order to play.

    So people are complaining about a predominantly multiplayer game requiring people to be online in order to play it. Okay. They are also angry that because it can be soloed (though why you would play it that way is beyond me, since it would be very grindy and repetitive) it should not require an internet connexion. I hate to wake people up to the reality of gaming, but WoW can be soloed, too. The fact is, the characters are stored server-side, and are there for the very good reason of ensuring a positive gameplay experience for the client. I can now play with ALL of my friends, all of the time, without having to navigate each person’s specific set of internet foibles, or having my character be subject to my friend’s internet connexion. The cost for this is that, like every other MMO, I need to be connected in order to play.

    Boo fucking hoo.

  3. Mel
    Posted 2012.05.25 at 20:07 | Permalink

    The enormous hassle of getting multiplayer to work in D2 is not indicative of client-side multiplayer games, but of multiplayer PC games over 10 years ago in general. Things have gotten MUCH better since then, and the solutions don’t all REQUIRE internet connections. This game stresses multiplayer, I totally agree. I also like how server-side information makes things safer and CAN make gaming sessions less laggy. There are some positives to the method here.

    But this measure was performed for one reason. Money. It’s now harder to pirate and harder to hack. Instead of finding a way around this they instead cut the single player option to protect their assets. They have every right to do this, but this also means we lost something that the people who are complaining clearly wanted. Something that the original Diablo team making Torchlight 2 have decided to keep in their next game. It also allows Blizzard to track people’s progress in games, their hours, their length of play, their time of play, and who knows what else. That data is invaluable to companies looking to squeeze that next penny off of development costs of DLC or following games (this is also why Achievements are everywhere and why every major distributor of content has adopted them except Nintendo). I’m not saying I don’t want that data collected, I’m asking which was truly the real reason for an always online system? Was it an anti-piracy measure and an anti-hacking measure (which is only half working at the moment)? Or was it because a huge publisher wants more control over its IP? It’s not a game breaker, but I don’t call this solution the best they could have devised.

    Bottom line, for me, is that we’re headed to an always-online world. Eventually this argument will be moot. But we’re just not there yet.

  4. Matt Dance
    Posted 2012.05.25 at 23:47 | Permalink

    Hey I liked to point about motion controls being the same crap now as 25 years ago. Only back then they gave you an accessory to make you feel like, “now I’m playing with power.” It’s the 21st century and you use a remote control, or your bare hands? Letdown. Maybe “virtual reality goggles” will replace tv’s to immerse you in the game world.

    Foster’s cans will fortunately weed out the weak candidates, leaving the drunken lunatics hoping for more Foster’s at the end of the trials. Surely the gods smile on this.

  5. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 01:38 | Permalink

    @Mel:

    You write, “But this measure was performed for one reason. Money. It’s now harder to pirate and harder to hack. Instead of finding a way around this they instead cut the single player option to protect their assets.”

    This is demonstrably baloney. Without even touching the lunatic notion that DRM = money, you can still play as a single-player, just like you could in D2 or D1. In fact, it is better than either because you can then use your single-player character to play (without any hassle) multiplayer with your friends as well, all without losing progress, equipment, or time. The requirement to be online is because your character is stored on the server. Declaring that this means that they have ‘cut the single-player’ is simply untrue. To wit, I soloed up until L.45. So much for a lack of single-player mode.

    Why was it implemented to a larger degree than in D2? For the same reason that TF2 servers and players now have to be connected and validated to Valve whereas they did not back in the old CS days. It allows them to improve the experience SUBSTANTIALLY. I want to be able to play with my friends quickly and easily without hassles. I’ve yet to see a game do that well without putting a significant load on the game servers. Frankly, peer-to-peer connectivity is still a mess and it prevents a lot of people from having a good experience. PC devs are trying to expand the PC user base beyond a bunch of pimply basement-dwellers who know how to open ports, set forwarding, configure NAT, and get their router’s IP so they can play games with a friend. It’s an unnecessary bar to entry for the vast majority of people and the best way to deal with that now is to get everything on the servers. This means a lot of people can now play together–people who, ten years ago, couldn’t get their PC games to work with their friends at all and so didn’t bother playing games on their PC. Moreover, this is equally important for their cross-platform play, as a console version is coming soon.

    As for “It was done to prevent piracy!”–this is also BS. Serial Keys and authentication performed largely the same job.

    I’m sorry if I’m not weeping for the NO-DOUBT-COUNTLESS-TRILLIONS of people out there who have no internet connexion and are angry because Diablo III requires them to have one in order to access their characters. But, you know what, it is a game which has been designed, from the bottom up, to be played online with other people. This should not be a surprise to anyone: it continues the progression which D1 went through on the way to D2–hell, it’s the reason the vast majority of people play Diablo to begin with. As I said, are people going to boohoo because WoW won’t let them play offline? Oh no! I cannot play TF2 without being connected to Steam. This DRM is terrible! Oh em gee, how can Valve do this to me!? Those money-grubbing bastards! Greed is the only possible motive in making online play infinitely more functional!

    It’s an online game which was designed to be played with other people. Consequently, ‘an internet connexion is required’. We’re not talking about Final Fantasy I here. It’s important to keep that in perspective, so bitching that “online game is online!” is hardly compelling stuff.

  6. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 02:20 | Permalink

    @Matt: You make a great point. At least the Power Glove looked cool. Now, we have a choice of light-up dildos, tiny AA-battery-powered remotes, or vague, increasingly agitated gestures made with our hands.

    I’d definitely rather have the Glove.

  7. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 02:48 | Permalink

    - Soundtracks have become much worse, fidelity not withstanding.

    – Also, after giving it a bit of thought, I would have to contend that Diablo’s always on internet connection is clearly DRM, as I would say that digital control exerted over gamers in order to prevent them from cheating (as well as controlling what they name their characters!!) is definitely a form of managing the digital rights that Blizzard have asserted for themselves. Blizzard’s DRM was not necessarily put in place to control piracy, though it is no less DRM for all that.

    I just think that in the case of Diablo it takes a bit of time and thought in order to get over the knee-jerk connotations of the word ‘DRM’ in order to realise that that it can come in forms other than what is usually foisted upon us by publishers. Diablo’s DRM may possibly have been implemented in order to curb piracy, but they also make enough use of it for the benefit of the game that I think we really have to give their intentions the benefit of the doubt.

    That said, I am no fan of the way they have exerted control over character names.

  8. Deimosion
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 06:08 | Permalink

    As SN said, what Blizzard is doing is DRM, though in this case it is excusable. The tradeoff for being able to use the same characters for single- and multi-player is that the characters are stored on the servers and the game requires a constant Internet connection. This, I think, is perfectly fair.

  9. Mel
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 12:13 | Permalink

    Using the same character for single and multiplayer didn’t require that you always be online, or that the characters be stored on the servers. What it DOES require is a P2P connection, which I will give Lusi is a worse way to go about making a multiplayer game. So, it’s not that “this was the only way to do it”, but that this was the way that was chosen.

    Also, Lusi, if DRM isn’t about making more money AND it doesn’t stop piracy (which it mostly doesn’t), I’d like to know why (in general, not just for this game) it is so prolific? Or were you just speaking about this game? Because if so, I have to say that if this game wasn’t always online then it would be MUCH easier to pirate. Simply, if all the game data exists on your hard drive…it’s getting pirated. Blizzard or any other company can throw all the authentication and serial keys they want at people, it WILL happen. But since D3 doesn’t function that way, it’s become substantially harder to pirate (just like WoW which forced pirates to play on unofficial servers).

    People have complained about this and not WoW or TF2 requiring connections because those are VERY different games. One is a PVP FPS with no campaign, the other is an MMO. D3 is neither. If MMO = 4 player multiplayer, then I guess it could be called an MMO, but I think that’s just pushing it. I think it’s clear that this game sits in a middle area, where it’s not an MMO nor is it really like a single player RPG. Otherwise people wouldn’t be complaining so much just like they don’t complain about WoW and TF2, as you said.

  10. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 13:36 | Permalink

    @Mel: Using the same character for single and multiplayer games with the characters stored offline means you will definitely have:
    1) Rampant cheating
    and hence 2) No possibility of an economy.
    The first was a massive complaint about Diablo 1 and 2, and the second was something they implemented largely by demand. I much prefer going to a cross-server auction house to buy items for gold. I also like that I am playing against people who did not create their L.50 character in fifteen minutes.

    I was speaking about DRM in this case. Anything can be pirated, including (!) server-side games, where accounts are routinely stolen. The point of any successful DRM is to deter pirates whilst also not being burdensome on your users. To this end, Steam and Blizzard have gotten it 100% right, to my observation.

    But again, D3 was built as an online game, and so complaining that it requires an online connexion is extremely soft-headed.

    Honestly, I don’t hear many people complaining about D3. In fact, I haven’t heard anyone complaining about it except for pundits (and the people they stir up) and, well, you.

    Anyone who seriously played D2 cannot but be gratified at the changes made, unless they are of the “ALL DRM MEANS BAD!!!!11″ sort of lunacy, which would prevent them playing just about anything on any system, PC or otherwise.

  11. Mel
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 16:43 | Permalink

    Well, I would simply argue that they didn’t deter piracy while being 100% burden free to the consumer. That D3 is an online-only game is a choice Blizzard made about the game, and a choice they built many (good) things around. That this new system is a burden shouldn’t be disputed. But what we can agree upon, and what I don’t think I made clear enough, is that all the benefits Blizzard put into D3 that tie into the new system make that burden worth carrying. But I don’t think the existence of people who find that burden to be a breaking point should be refuted (people who I’d wager make up a considerable number of the Torchlight fanbase).

    I think it’s worth noting that I made this comment in between sessions of D3, lol.

  12. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 18:54 | Permalink

    @Mel: Tell people who lose their CD Keys how 100% burden-free they are. Both SN and I have had to crack games we legally own because the key has, over the years, been lost.

    “That this new system is a burden shouldn’t be disputed.”
    I’m glad you are the arbiter of truth here. It’s a burden? Says who? You? Sure. If this is a burden, so is Steam, and the systems used to run every MMO in existence, and quite a few games from the past as well. Guess we should junk ‘em all to avoid DRM, because it is always bad 100% of the time! How burdensome!

    Or perhaps it is too novel? Thanks, but I’ll take the Blizzard method instead of one that requires me to look up a sentence in an instruction manual in order to verify that I have purchased the game. Or, as SN rightly pointed out to me this morning, some of the even-more-cryptic methods used to prevent piracy.

    I’m sorry, but the ‘burden’ such as it exists is pretty limited compared to, well, just about every DRM method I can think of, and given that the game is an online game with a cross-game economy, I don’t see how else you could have such a system without resorting to something tantamount to DRM, unless you want it flooded with hacked and duped items.

    Games with online economies and secure characters are going to be stored on the server. If you think this qualifies as a DRM decision that means people shouldn’t buy it, that’s your business, but it’s a lunatic position to take, and I have no problem saying so.

  13. Mel
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 20:27 | Permalink

    I never said people shouldn’t buy this game. If you have a stable internet connection…buy it. I also never said that the other methods didn’t carry their own burdens and I REALLY didn’t say that the burdens that those games and this game carry means that we should “junk ‘em all…because it is always bad 100% of the time”. Needing an internet connection for a game is a (small to some, but not all) burden. But, again, the game is worth it despite whatever hoops you may need to jump through.

  14. Matt Dance
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 21:22 | Permalink

    I’m enjoying the spirited debate here. Though I can’t comment from experience so far (simply cannot play D3 with my computer), I believe that Blizzard has acted in their best interest. Their games have always had a significant multiplayer appeal since WarCraft II on dial-up. I used to have horrendous problems before high speed internet playing StarCraft with 3 other people, but I went through the pains because I loved it so much. Now, they’ve sacrificed some of the sanctity of the single player experience in order to benefit the multiplayer… why?

    Well, Blizzard is a big company made of incredibly talented people, and I’m sure they’ve thought this thing through. So all of the reasons that both Mel and Lusipurr have said are correct. There’s room for positives and negatives in always-online; it hurts some people and helps others. Logic can’t reduce it to purely profit motive or entirely dismiss their corporate self-interest.

    If, as Mel posits, the future is always-online, then this is the time to see what problems come out of it. I wonder if it would work to release a separate, single-player only Diablo 3 with no required internet connection..?

  15. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2012.05.26 at 23:52 | Permalink

    I’m not really sure that you should be calling the least of all possible burdens (including the burden of no DRM) a burden. Sure, it is a burden to people who lack a stable internet connection, and it is a burden when the servers go down, but on the whole it serves to decrease the burden on serious Diablo III players who have access to a decent internet connection – which is pretty much all of Blizzard’s core customer-base.

    If you want to be honest, then at most you can call Diablo’s DRM a best practice burden.

  16. Mel
    Posted 2012.05.27 at 00:08 | Permalink

    @ Matt: Well said.

    @ SN: I think that puts it quite honestly, indeed.