I’ve always been a bit pessimistic when it came to the viability of buying a PS5 for the average gamer. Considering its $499 price tag for the standard, non-digital version coupled with a $70 price for AAA titles, the expense always seemed to be hanging just out of ‘justifiable’ range. Compared to a gaming PC, the price might seem quite low, but when you factor in the price of controllers and the fact that you have to pay to have the right to play online, the costs associated between the two platforms quickly closes, and PC gaming, with its constant supply of discounts and free online access (provided you’re provided), actually becomes cheaper within a year or two.
Aside from costs to the user, the amount of games that are actually worth playing on the PS5 also struck me as a little thin to be worth the purchase. If I were to pick it up, I’d also grab Demon Souls, The Last of Us 2, and something related to Spiderman before never touching the console again, most likely, probably. In short, these titles offer something to me that are exclusive to the PS5 where my PC can’t compete by virtue of not having access to the games (and that’s not even true anymore in relation to Spiderman: MM). It seems like the overall trend of PS5 purchases supports my thoughts regarding longevity with the console.
With data provided by SportsLens, one can see rather clearly that the fervor initially met with the PS5’s release is calming in quick fashion. In the fiscal year of 2020, Sony saw 338.9 million sales of game titles. Those numbers are split between both physical copies and digital downloads, the latter of which made up roughly 70% of all sales, to no surprise at all. In FY 2022, however, those total figures dropped to 264.2 million sales, which shows a consistent downtrend in interest towards the console and its respective titles.
I couldn’t prove to you, definitively, that the core issue with these figures lies in the longevity of the console’s offered games, but consider the Nintendo Switch for a moment: A console that’s been supported for over six years and has access to a long line of exclusives such that Breathe of the Wild, Smash Bros Ultimate, and the newly released Tears of the Kingdom (just to name a few heavy hitters), is also the console that can be bought as a handheld for only $200, and functions on the go instead of being a strictly immobile console. These are attributes that the PS5, in the most generous of terms, can’t readily compete with.
For gamers who have been paying half attention, the aforementioned Tears of the Kingdom, alone, would be reason enough to go for a Switch over a PS5. The console is cheaper, and while the game is stuck at a new normal of $70, the purchase would serve as a buffer into the world of Nintendo games that are pretty much all worth your time by any reasonable standard of game review. They are, by and large, games that were made to be played offline, and with your friends and family, which means that you aren’t heavily tempted to buy into their online subscription model for a whopping 20 bucks per year (vs. the Playstation’s $60 annually).
When looking at the difference in sales from exclusive titles vs. third party creations, one can see a trend of decision making akin to what I outline above: people are buying the PS5 because it holds access to certain exclusives, while ditching it when offered the choice to play other titles on different consoles or the PC. Between FY 2021 and FY 2021, the decrease in sales from Sony exclusives dropped only 2%, while third party titles dropped a whopping 15%, suggesting that most people are only purchasing the console for games that can’t play elsewhere.
Its also inconvenient to note that, despite revamping their subscription model, Sony lost 600,000 in PS Plus users, which suggests that players aren’t just holding off on buying games, their also holding off on using the console at all, or at the very least aren’t impressed with the online selection offered by the PS5.
As much as I love the Playstation legacy and its ability to craft one of a kind experiences, as is exemplified by their longstanding relationship with Naughty Dog, for example, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that their delivery on the PS5 experience has seemed a tad underwhelming, especially with the likes of Nintendo breathing down their necks. Maybe the second half of this year can change that?
I think a lot of what drives video game companies to release old versions of their game is chalked up to nostalgia when the more obvious and abundant force is the power of a second draft. Runescape classic was ahead of its time as a MUD game displayed visually, and what followed as Runescape 2 was a rather harsh step away from its predecessor. Items that were created en mass via duplication bugs entered into the game economy, stats were transferred over from older accounts, and what was left wasn’t really a fresh start into a new world, but rather a continued journey that inherited many of the flaws from the previous one by virtue of not starting players off with fresh accounts. This is also true for the rather slow and painful push into Runescape 3, which today has so many flaws mixed in with the good that the game deserves an article all for itself just on the tedious nature of trying to define it.
Classic WoW took the approach of “sharding” a method of layering players on the same servers into a sort of sub-server so that high-prioritized areas early on into the game’s lifespan weren’t overrun with questers all trying to do the same XP grab. It didn’t work perfectly, but it did help the players complete their early game in a timely manner, and that serves as an example of developers reworking a system retroactively to better create an experience that’s enjoyable.
The Oldschool Runescape team (which is a re-released version of Runescape 2) started every account fresh, took a democratic methodology to game updates, and outright locked content (such as the construction skill) before ensuring that it was ready for player use without incident (not naming names, but I’m sure nobody wanted to be the victim of another Fally Massacre). Despite being riddled with bots, the early game experience was truly something to behold. Players mining essence for gold, players spamming colored and animated trade messages in the Varrock bank, people struggling to find half decent gear once they hit 40 defence, the whole kazoo. It was awesome.
And like all awesome things, it came to an end. Today, OSRS spends its time pushing the envelope for what players can expect as an experience all the way to max stats. New quests, new game modes, new mini-games, new everything. In addition, the OSRS dev team spends a great deal of its energy theorizing ways to create a healthy sense of longevity in the economy. Item sinks, gold sinks, and that sort of thing. In short, the game is doing well, even though it has its fair share of problems, and even though it’s far different from how it was upon release.
And that leads me back to Runescape 3. Where the OSRS dev team had the foresight to prioritize longevity in their game design, the Runescape 3 team absolutely did not. RS3 devs created the invention skill, which used old, mostly useless items in large quantities as a training method. This brought the price of these items up in very successful fashion and that, ladies and gents, is where the compliments from me will stop.
RS3 suffers from “content bloat”. A sickness that appears in games where the developers fail in thinking ahead on how space is used in their game and, after enough time, end up with a world more akin to a carnival with rides packed together than a natural, seamless space that might exist in reality (or, at least, in the game’s reality.)
Take a walk through RS3 for 5 minutes and you’ll find all kinds of distractions that are at odds with one another. Lore building NPCs that are smashed right next to a bank that’s awkwardly place on the side of a mountain that plays host to a teleport pad that’s placed not 10 seconds away from another teleport pad that’s next to yet another bank which hosts a dock to yee-old-dungeoneering training. This is just one part of the map. In other parts, you’ll find old training methods that are now useless, but take up a good 15% of an area’s mass next to three other large eyesores that no one uses. This is a result of the content bloat: RS3 devs added one of these four things at one point by itself, and that was fine. They then added another thing, and another, and at some point or another they realized that they added so many things that now the map wasn’t a natural looking town or swamp, but just a collection of game-like awkward and unattractive baffoonaries.
And this leads me to my desire; a Runescape 4. Clean up the world, update the training methods for a sense of consistent viability, make old combat equipment useful at specific content, make top tier combat equipment worse at specific content, reset the economy, reset the stats, let ironmen dungeoneer together, release group ironman mode, and change the name of the game from Runescape 4 to Geilinor. Add more item sinks, gold sinks, lower the rate at which resources enter the game, and make it so that non-ironmen players have real reasons to train every skill beyond simple quest requirements.
That’s maybe 3-4 years of work, shouldn’t be too hard.
A part of me feels as though incredible, sweeping changes such as what Riot is proposing for Patch 13.10 are indicative of a business mindset the company acts on that emphasizes novelty over consistency. This is in great contrast to Valve’s methodology of balancing / game development with DOTA 2, which favors an extremely long-form basis of balance and sees heroes and respective items altered very, very slowly with big changes coming once every few years, at the most.
What does all that mean, and what the hell am I talking about?
League of Legends goes through patches just like any other game. These changes consist of character alterations, items changes, and content introduced or removed. And because it’s the biggest esport in the world, League’s patch notes are seen as far more important than just a method of game balance, instead being treated like things that can, and will, upset or help a game with nearly 2 billion dollars of annual revenue. The developers, artists, professionals, and casual players alike all rely on the balance team to do their job in a safe manner so as to not flip the tables on something they all rely on as a job and a hobby.
13.10 is the kind of patch that I like: New items introduced, old items brought back, existing items reworked, champion changes, map changes, the whole 9 yards. That said, it upsets me quite a bit that these changes weren’t introduced during pre-season, when most changes to the game are supposed to take place. To be completely fair to Riot, I don’t think the changes being introduced could have been completely foreseen as helpful or needed during pre-season simply because the problems they fix didn’t exist until pre-season had already passed. That said, it does feel like Riot is holding out on big changes for the sake of creating a manufactured sense of novelty instead of a natural one. That is to say that Riot holds out on sweeping changes for longer periods of time than they need to so that the player base sees any changes at all as the cleanest breath of fresh air they’ve ever had the pleasure of sucking up.
The truth is, I believe Riot would actually stand to gain from being far, far more aggressive early in the year and during preseason more often than they are. I mean why couldn’t Statikk Shyv exist right from the get go this season, huh? To quote a Douglas Robb, “…the reason is you.”
You, the league player, are seen as a product that ripens with a measured amount of exposure to your addiction. Too big of a hit too quickly, and you overdose, leaving behind the dealer with what’s tantamount to pocket change. Think of the effect URF has on casuals and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Too small of a hit, and you find a new dealer outright because you need a better fix. And Riot’s methodology of patch changes follows the guidelines of making sure their player-base gets just enough of a kick to stick around while also being just mildly upset with XYZ aspects of the game, which Riot themselves created, intentionally or otherwise, just so that they can save the day by making the necessary alterations after enough teasing and bam, another successful deal (and you’ll be back for more.)
I’m not anti-business, and I understand money trumps all in a business as big as Riot Games, but as stated, I believe they have more to gain by approaching their patch notes with aggression and fervor moving forward as opposed to the limp wristed half-measures they’ve been exhibiting this past year. And if that sounds too harsh, remember to ask yourself this question: “Why couldn’t Static Shyv have been here the whole time?” There’s no reason it couldn’t have. Riot could have nerfed it if it was a problem, but chose to remove a fun item instead. They made that choice, just like they did with Ohmwrecker and Banner of Command.
Riot Games, I beg of you, take the leash off and let League have a wealth of niche, strange items for players to further identify their play-styles in. And for fuck’s sake, don’t remove Statikk Shyv ever again or I’m changing dealers.
Roguelite, roleplay, and repetition. The Dark Souls Trilogy nails all three. Let’s talk about how and why the games’ strengths have such an addicting effect on those who play them.
First at bat is “Roguelite”: A subgenre of the “Roguelike” video games, which are games like Rogue. That sentence looks disgusting, but I promise everything you need it is in their. Just to be clear, “Rogue” is a classic game that popularized the top-down dungeon-crawling random-looter perma-death kinda’ game. “Roguelite” video games, collectively, fire from the hip when making associations between themselves and Rogue. That is, some Roguelites will have Rogue’s perma-death mechanic, while others will be dungeon crawlers, and some will be random looters. Dark Souls as a trilogy is a very mild mix of all three. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on Dark Souls 1 as an example.
Dark Souls 1 features Roguelite mechanics in the form of its randomized loot drops, a severely punishing checkpoint system that, thanks to the difficulty featured in the game, approaches the punitive feeling of perma-death in other games, and, when looked at from a certain perspective, can mask its open world as multiple large dungeons to clear. Again, some of these descriptions can be contested, but the point is that Dark Souls very loosely shares some its mechanics with Rogue, even if indirectly.
This serves as the foundation for the game’s addictive nature. Because the game features randomized loot drops, a punitive death system, and the sprawling feel of a large dungeon in need of clearing, bit by bit, every single action taken by the player feels like improvement. Dying might result in a reset to the last checkpoint (bonfire), but some information on the AI might be gained, giving the player an edge the next time around. Or, perhaps, some random loot will be dropped before dying that helps give the player character (PC) stronger weapons or tools to overcome an obstacle. All of this works to give the feeling of tangible improvement even when no ground has been made in-game.
Dark Souls 1 leans into these strengths by making it very clear that a new player should expect to be lost, at a disadvantage, and to die often. The correct direction(s) are often not very clear and the promise of another bonfire after clearing a particularly difficult area is non-existent. In short, these aspects of Dark Souls make each section feel like an entire game on their own, and something to be celebrated after conquering. And that feeling of victory is strong thanks to how brutal the game can be to the uninitiated.
At the start of Dark Souls, you’re asked to pick your starting character. All characters can become more or less the same eventually, but start out very different and will reflect the player’s wishes on what kind of role they wish to pursue. Longtime readers of mine will know that I’m big into the Roleplaying genre, and so it only makes sense to me that being able to roleplay in Dark Souls would serve to enhance whatever strengths the were to be exhibited in the rest of the game.
The benefits of roleplaying in a game that asks you to overcome extremely difficult-to-manage enemies is multi-faceted: The fact that your character is teching into a specific playstyle means that you’ll be stronger at one or two particular forms of offense / defense, making your playstyle easier to navigate and enemies easier to take down as apposed to having a complicated, expensive, and mediocre playstyle that branches out over all of the game’s content. Additionally, this type roleplaying makes each playthrough unique to the one that came before it: a mage build will vary from a melee mage build, which will vary from a melee build, which will vary from a faith-based spell caster build, and so on.
Effectively speaking, this provides Dark Souls with that “itch” every player feels when getting roughly halfway through a playthrough they weren’t prepared for. That “itch” often coming in the form of a thought that resembles something like “Oh my god, if only I had spent my souls a little more effectively, I could get through this part easily!” or “If I had just upgraded this weapon instead of that weapon, my character would be far stronger!”. THAT thought right there is the source of your addiction, believe it or not.
And what do we do when we have that thought? Generally speaking, I’m willing to bet that most of us play for another hour at most before rerolling our character to be slightly (or greatly) improved. After beating it for the first time, that’s certainly how I’d play. And its all thanks to the roleplaying elements in Dark Souls foundations, helping to differentiate one playthrough from the next.
There’s one key aspect of Dark Souls that ties the roguelite and roleplay elements together like the greatest present ever devised: and that’s the game’s repetition. More specifically, the game’s rhythmic gameplay. First and foremost, it goes without saying that Dark Souls has extremely addicting mechanics. The satisfaction one gets from overcoming a boss or difficult foe by making use of the smooth combat system is simply unmatched by 99.99% of games in existence. There’s no contest in that regard.
But more specifically, the rhythmic gameplay is ever-present but ultimately lost on a great many players, which is why the source of the addiction Dark Souls seeps onto its playerbase often remains unseen: everything from walking, running, attacking, dodging, leveling, and blocking function in tandem with the rhythm programmed right into your opponent’s moves. From attack patterns and mobility, to defensive habits and AOE spells, each enemy obeys a rhythm that allows the player to react. This rhythm tends become quicker with the more recent FromSoftware games, but its still a rhythm nonetheless. And this rhythm is the key to Dark Souls’ satisfying repetition of gameplay.
This isn’t to say that the gameplay itself is repetitive. The game features a constant, satisfying rhythm that repeats itself and provides the gameplay, which varies wildly, with enough breathing room to be fun all the way through a 50 hour playthrough (or three).
Roguelite mechanics, roleplaying foundations, and a masterclass in satisfying repetition are all you need to search for when finding the source of your addiction to Dark Souls. The real question after all that is deciding whether or not its worth cutting it out of your life. (Just one more playthrough?)
In today’s world, its an inarguable fact that the niche genres of gaming are no longer being accessed by the die hard fans of old. These days, the FPS fanatics are getting their hands on MOBAs and the casual clickers are delving into the world of Role-playing Games (RPGs). That latter genre is the one I’m most focused on these days, as it seems every other game that comes out today tries to incorporate RPG elements into its foundations. From AAA titles to the small indie passion project, what I find is that at some point the player is asked to manage skill points, profession levels, or, at the very least, stick to a character archetype as defined in the beginning of the game. Very rarely are one of these aspects of role-playing missing from a title, and when they are, its generally due to the fact that these aspects were purposely left out to hone in on the “action” aspect of a particular game, such as a shooter that wants to simplify its gameplay loop.
For the games that do intend on having RPG elements baked into its core, there is a single attribute, or ingredient, that’s key to making the player feel engaged with the process of playing a role: motivation. No shit, right? Most developers, and gamers, think that good mechanics and quality writing create the motivation to engage in a roleplaying game, but this is an illusion. The mechanics compliment certain functions of the game, such as combat. The writing keeps a player engaged in the story and character development. But the motivation to continue engaging with an RPG is down to the way the game forces the player’s hand.
That might sound counterintuitive for a genre that prides itself on player freedom, but, if implemented correctly, the mechanics that force a player’s gameplay will be unseen, non-obstructive, and will encourage the player to stick to the gameplay style or story they’ve crafted for themselves without making them feel like they are missing out on anything.
The Elder Scrolls, For Example
The Elder Scrolls games all have unique attributes and their own take on how to implement this kind of system. Let’s take a look at Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim as examples and see how they strategized motivating the player to roleplay.
Morrowind opted to give the player total freedom in the open world by making sure that enemies, in the vast majority of cases, were not leveled to the character. This means that a level 1 character is going to find the same exact kinds of enemies in the open world and in the majority of dungeons as a level 20 character. This is key for Morrowind because it means that a level 10 character who has teched into a melee focused build won’t mind taking some time out of their playthrough to opt for some magic training to change up their gameplay since the enemies they’ll be facing won’t get any harder due to the increased levels in some side skills.
Since the open world wasn’t the source of motivation for players to stick to their archetypes, Bethesda incorporated the motivation into the faction and house requirements. For those who haven’t played Morrowind, the game features factions and native houses that offer quests to the player, but lock themeslves off at certain requirements: one house might have speechcraft requirements, while a another faction might have strength and melee combat requirements. This means that a player who is focused on one kind of build is likely going to be guided to a relevant house or faction by the game’s NPCs. And because getting to the end of said questlines is almost always going to be in the player’s best interest, they feel motivated to stick with their build to unlock the next set of ranks and quests to progress.
In short, Morrowind opted for a sociopolitical solution to their motivational factor and made the player naturally feel inclined to keep steady and stick with their designated skill set, although it was never a requirement to follow a difficulty curve.
Oblivion, on the other hand, opted for the opposite approach. Instead of motivating the character through subtlety via house and faction requirements, Oblivion removed the quest requirements altogether and just made the enemies in the open world level with the character. So a level 10 character is going to find much stronger enemies in the open world and its associated dungeons than a level 1 character. This means that a character who is teched into melee combat isn’t going to want to step aside for some unnecessary magic training, as the extra levels in skills he or she isn’t likely to use will result in stronger enemies for no gain on the player’s part.
This design opened up the possibilities for specific character archetypes to 100% all of the game’s content without being locked out due to skill requirments in Oblivion, but resulted in a far more punishing leveling system that made use of the difficulty slider (to account for stronger enemies) far more necessary for new players.
Both of these methods have their assets and weaknesses, but both serve to “force” the player’s hand in some way. And those restrictions make the player feel far more invested in using the tools they’ve chosen for a single playthrough as apposed to all the tools possible, which is precisely what roleplaying is all about.
Since I mentioned the weaknesses in brief, a quick note about them: In Morrowind, the unleveled world is very, very forgiving to new players who might not have an optimal build, and will let them become overpowered gods no matter what. This is a strength. When it comes to veterans, however, knowledge of the systems at play mean that leveling every skill at rapid pace isn’t just a viable option, but the strongest option in every play through with no downsides. From a roleplaying perspective, this is a weakness. In Oblivion’s case, the opposite is true: newbies are very likely to have a punishing first playthrough in a leveled world that cares not if you understand how to make a viable build. This is a weakness. For veterans, though, the system is designed to make the playthroughs all individually unique and heavily motivated them to stick to their chosen skill set, thanks to the fact that the world will punish those who deviate too much. This is a strength.
Which version appeals to you more will depend on your taste and which game’s story and mechanics you prefer. That said, from a roleplaying perspective, both methods shown here are miles ahead of Skyrim’s method of motivation, which is no method at all.
You see, Skyrim opted to level its world similar to how Oblivion did, but also advertised itself as a game that allows the player to choose whatever build path they like and deviate as much as they want. A game of “total freedom”. The reality is that the leveled world meant that the total freedom was absolutely not a viable build choice like it was in Morrowind and, thanks to the fact that all of Skyrim’s crafting mskills were necessary to making a strong build viable off of expert difficulty, the player is not only forced into teching into their opted playstyle (not as advertised) but is also forced into using Alchemy, Enchanting, and Smithing to keep their power at reasonable odds with the AI. So that’s three forced skills on top of the combat skills used in a player’s build. Needless to say, this is the absolute wrong way to do an RPG.
Where Skyrim succeeds in pushing the mechanics of the medium, it fails delivering on the roleplaying elements of Oblivion and Morrowind by not motivating the player to actually roleplay in any true sense of the word. And it definitely didn’t succeed in matching Morrowind’s writing or story (though that’s a topic for another article).
For the RPG, limiting the player’s choice isn’t about locking the player off of content or skills, but imploring them to dive head first into their character. In a way, its about limiting what a player wants to do without forcing them to do it. Its a difficult balance to achieve, and while Oblivion and Morrowind managed to find two inventive ways of managing the systems, I await with eagerness at what future developers might theorize into practice for the genre’s future.
I’m going to come right out of the gate with my hands up and say that I have zero personal experience in game development. From the concept stages all the way out to shipping, there isn’t a single place where you could point out a spot where I’d know what to do beyond playing the actual product. That said, there’s a simple truth that any purveyor of passionate gaming can attest to, and that’s the consistently inconsistent nature of contemporary game development.
Now there’s a lot to be said on this topic, and while some of its more contentious facets can be, and will be, debated over the next decade, I’m going to lead with the obvious stuff first. Namely, that regarding studios’ insistence on setting time constraints that aren’t feasible. Starfield is the timely example here: Bethesda’s soon to be (presumably) released title that has been pushed back from November of 2022 all the way to sometime, anytime, in 2023.
There’s absolutely no issue with a studio pushing a date back to make their product better. I’m all for it. What I’m not for is this being a standard that studios lean on to garner early hype for their release, and that’s exactly what AAA devs have begun doing. After Cyberpunk 2077’s abysmal release (which saw great commercial success), the powers at be noticed that you can create an almost artificial stream of hype trains by lying your ass off when it comes to how realistic the buyer’s time expectations could be. That is, when gamers are told a game is to be released in 2022, studios have an interest in breaking that promise to create free advertising through the click-bait sites who will jump at the opportunity to include some SEO titles in their diet.
“Game delayed once again, click here in disappointment!”
And we do. We always click. And we do it because our brains are hardwired to see this news as something that is unexpected, dramatic, and might have some wild story behind it. Are the developers looking out for their clientele by making their product better, or is this delay a story of devs who are in over their heads and are desperate to make contact with some form of the game they promised? The reality today is that this is a false dichotomy: Bethesda Studios, with all of their experience, knows one year in advance whether or not they can have a finished Starfield that they’ve been planning for the last five, developing for three.
The pessimistic nature of this argument might look manufactured or at least tilted at a glance, but once you entertain the concept of a studio listing a release date that they are more than likely to beat then you see how silly it is that nearly every major release features a date that is almost assuredly going to be delayed. In what way would setting a release date that gives developers an extra 6 months to a year beyond “standard measurements” ruin the product? Some might say it would make the product better in most cases, but maybe you think that the devs will just work slower and eat into profits more.
Of course this isn’t an argument genuinely worth considering since studios (or, more accurately, the private holders of the studios) know in advance that they will be delaying their title. But pretending that isn’t the case, there isn’t a reason that these studios can’t set internal product dates to attempt to beat their aforementioned release ahead of time. A title slated to release in December of 2024 that announces a 6 month early release in January of 2024 isn’t one that isn’t worth picking up, its actually one that you can put the most money on as being a well made, completed product.
But again, money is what talks here, and gamers themselves are the ones pouring out extra cash for pre-orders and goodies before playing the fucking game. So I can’t really be too critical on the devs, their studio, or the studio’s shareholders because they are just following the statistics. I’m almost tempted to change the name of this article to “YOUR standards need to change” since it would probably be more accurate, more to the point, but alas, much like the studios referenced here, I realize that accuracy isn’t the best measure for success.
As for the more common talking points, there are the pre-orders, micro-transactions, 70 dollar price tags, and pay to win schemes. It may surprise you to know that I don’t actually have a problem with micro-transactions at all. Nor do I have an issue with 70 dollar price tags. The gaming industry has done a really good job of keeping the cost of owning a AAA title down to 60 dollars for a very, very long time and I see no problem with them trying to find ways of including in-game content to personalize a gamer’s experience if they are willing to pay for it or simply adding 10 dollars to huge releases as a means of keeping up with increasing costs of development. Games are expensive, and games can bomb on the market. When you have a good release, you need to make the most of it and I’m not a person who hates money, so go for it, I say.
As for pay-to-win, there are obviously issues with AAA titles releasing content that gives players advantages after they’ve already shelled out over 50 bucks to own the title, but in the majority of cases these schemes rely on “whales”, or people who are willing to shell out disgusting amounts of cash to get their hits of dopamine. And when I say disgusting, I don’t mean 50 bucks over the course of three years, I mean hundreds of dollars per month or more on a game that is only feasibly playable by spending money. This is a problem, but its more a problem of gambling addiction and a general loss of purpose in life than it is a problem of game development: and these are topics that are far more important and extend beyond the grasp of this article.
When it comes to the infamous pre-order, I am totally against them. Buy micro-transactions, spend 70 bucks on a game, but do not, ever, under any circumstance pre-order a game. In fact, don’t pre-order anything except for food by necessity. Buying a game before its been released, before its been tested, reviewed, and picked apart by casuals and experts alike, is not only a bad investment of time and money for you, but it sets a poor precedent for the studios behind the product.
Obviously this is a point that’s just about fifteen years too late, but the pre-order culture is such a strange phenomenon because we live in a time where you don’t need to stand in line to get the game you want. Your title awaits you via online purchases and downloads and is in infinite supply: you don’t need to save your slot, I promise! And yet, AAA studios manage to suck in the potential customers early by offering small care packages with the purchase. Like selling toys for a franchise you like, but you’d have to buy a ticket to see the movie before getting access to them, and the ticket costs 60 dollars to boot. Like, stop. Stop pre-ordering games. You have ZERO clue if the game will be good, if you will like it, or if you even have the time to play it before finishing the other five games sitting in your library that you bought on sale two months ago. Just stop it, please.
The only way the consumer can punish the developer is with their money, and if you give up your cash early, the developer has zero impetus to release a finished, high quality product instead of just patching it into “reasonable” over time. Just look at the Battlefront remakes: tons of talent behind their production, and terrible quality control on release. EA Games, pre-order everything.
The development culture of today needs to be reminded that beta testing happens before release, not during. It also needs to stop leaning on false release dates and promises to generate artificial hype. And the only way that will happen is if enthusiasts learn to vote with their cash again. So, yeah, that shit is never gunna happen, thanks for reading.
It’s clunky, it’s ugly, it has an ancient combat system, its plagued with bots, and it functions on a tick system that was probably made to allow 500 MHz CPUs to act as servers for its player-base way back in 2001. So why is Oldschool Runescape still the best Massively Multiplayer Online game to ever grace the world of gaming?
When compared to some of the more “contemporary” titles like New World and World of Warcraft, there isn’t really anything on paper that sets OSRS above its peers. The aforementioned problems with the game are decidedly worse forms of game design in terms of what players say they want, all the way down to the tick system. That said, I’d argue that giving players what they say they want is probably not in a studio’s best interest at all. In fact, all of these attributes that OSRS sports is something that I can, and will, argue for as a positive in OSRS’s favor. Additionally, these attributes can be weighed against the game’s peers’ alternate form of game design as a way to figure out what happens when developers opt for the modern approach to MMO creation.
First, I’d like to look at the art style of OSRS. The graphics. The big ol’ ugly looking models. To be perfectly honest, I can see where people come from when they say the graphics are a huge turn off to even trying this game. Its not only simple, but to the untrained eye its entirely ugly as well. Simple little characters running around with simple little animations. Disgusting, right? Well, I’m going to ignore the argument that this art style is in any way “charming”. Not because it isn’t charming, because I do find that its grown on me since my childhood, but because you don’t need to argue in favor of something so subjective to make a strong case for this art style working as an asset of OSRS’s design.
When I look at a modern game, I see a product that’s fighting with itself. Often times, the graphics on display is the product of an art team that has to spend months creating what’s in front of the player, if not years. In OSRS’s case, this is time that’s instead spent mostly on the content of the gameplay itself. I don’t know how long it takes to model a new NPC for an OSRS update, but I can’t imagine its more than a month, at the most. But when I look at all of the different models and animations seen in a game like WoW, I can’t help but feel like the prettiness of it all comes at the cost of resources that could have been spent on making the game actually fun to play.
Don’t get me wrong, both OSRS and WoW can be extremely fun to play for different kinds of people. But I can’t help but feel that the differences between the two is that most people actually enjoying taking part in the content that OSRS has to offer, while WoW players are simply conditioned from a bygone era to grind out every expansion that comes out. That’s an opinion that will divide the room, I realize, but its mine all the same. OSRS has content that is its own goal, while WoW has rewards for completing content that usually can’t stand on its own two legs. This is true when looking at a game like New World as well. Great concept, great artwork, absolutely dreadful delivery that only appealed to those players who get satisfaction out of grinding out goals for their own sake instead of actually enjoying the game. I mean did you even try PvP in New World? Ever? Trashimus Maximus, it was.
Tick Rates and Responsive Design
OSRS functions on a tick system, just like any other online game. The tick rate is the rate at which the server of the game updates the state of the things. A game like CS:GO, for example, functions on a 64 tick rate server. This means that every second, the position of players, grenades, and shots fired are updated 64 times. This is essential in a game like CS:GO where things happen rapidly. OSRS, on the other hand, updates it server once every .6 seconds. So its less than a 2 tick rate server, and yet it has fully functional PvP and high skill ceiling PvE aspects. How so? Well, as it happens, the tick rate of OSRS has created an asset for the game in the form of being able to produce heavily controlled content. The developers are able to accurately assess when a portion of the game becomes too difficult for the allotted skill requirements to partake in it because they know down to every .6 seconds when a player will need to respond to a change in the content. 3-tick fishing, Tri-brid PvP, skilling in general, and high level PvE content are all things that benefit from a low tick rate strictly because the developers are smart enough to plan their content around it. With a game like WoW, I’m not going to argue that a higher tick-rate server is worse, because its clearly not. I just don’t think OSRS’s low tick rate is a negative, I think it’s strictly a positive that offers Jagex devs the opportunity to plan content out in a way that no other devs are able to.
The Combat System
On a surface level, even the most inexperienced gamer can understand OSRS’s combat design. Click the thing, you hit the thing, it hits back, repeat automatically. Simple. The thing is, OSRS also incorporates its prayer system into combat fairly quickly into a player’s journey, which means a player is now clicking on a thing and also a prayer book’s desired effect before letting the combat automate. Still simple.
But, you know, OSRS uses positioning fairly often in medium to high level bossing. So pretty soon, one finds themselves in need of clicking the proper prayers, repositioning, using utility items, and getting their hits in whenever they have .6 seconds, or one tick, to spare. The belabored point being that, despite OSRS’s combat looking rather simple at a glance, it has a huge amount of depth that would put many MMO players to task with becoming even half-decent at.
It used to be the case that you didn’t play OSRS for the combat, but with the community’s ingenuity and the devs’ grand boss design, that’s all but changed as the combat is a huge draw for many players. This is to say nothing of the aforementioned tri-brid PvP aspect of the game you can see above, which has players making use of alternate prayer flicks, utility items, weapons, and armor against other players. This means that a player tri-bridding might be clicking 5 times accurately to swap 5 pieces of gear out, two times for prayer switches, and yet another to switch weapons to something that might be more effective against what they believe their opponent will be switching to, all in under .6 seconds, ideally. Then they do it again. When it comes to this PvP, it takes a special kind of talent to master the art. Its something I honestly believe tri-bridding is something that cannot come naturally to 99.99% of people, it takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours, just to become not terrible in.
The Game Itself
The game itself is unlike any MMO out there today. The quests you’d normally find in an MMO like New World, which are obnoxious fetch quests which blend together boringly, are outstanding experiences in OSRS. The writing is witty, the content in quests are unique, and the rewards aren’t just disgusting amounts of XP required to get your next level, but instead one of kind items or access to new methods of playing that completely alter how convenient it is to play a certain way.
The skilling can be click intensive and difficult, or relaxed and AFK, depending on your mood. And the game is built in such a way that, although you’re playing with thousands of other people, you don’t need to interact with them to make your account stronger. The game has the resources required to be completely self sufficient built right into it. This is why many players opt to play as ‘iron’ men and women, to show that they refuse to trade with other people or get help during bossing. Although you could take part in the thriving in-game economy if you wanted to.
Speaking of in-game economy, the market in OSRS is directly tied to the progression of an account. In short, this means that when you go and level a skill like woodcutting, say, you can sell the logs you get from leveling directly into the in-game market. Using the wealth you’ve gained from that, you can buy fishing bait and a rod to train your fishing. Then, afterward, you can sell the fish and buy weapons to train combat skills and get valuable drops. And so the cycle continues. The in-game economy in most MMO’s, which throws early-game content right out the window, isn’t there to be seen in OSRS. Instead, OSRS’s economy is thriving for a level 3 player in just the same way it is for a maxed player because everyone needs all kinds of resources, and all the time.
OSRS is a great game. Go and play it, even if casually. Other MMOs tend to suck and they bore me. Don’t play them, even if casually.
I’d like to talk about a phenomena in gaming that anyone who grew up with a controller in their hands can relate to: sucking. Sucking isn’t actually the negative thing its made out to be in gaming, despite the inherent negative connotations made with the term. Sucking, or being bad, is a by product of being a newbie. Its the seed from which being passable and then talented comes from.
In modern game development, there has been a loss of artistic grit in the form of transparency. And by that I mean that the art of lacking transparency in just the right way is a practice modern game developers are leaving in the dust.
To “lack transparency” in just the right way is to obfuscate, hide, or outright lie about information presented in a game to purposefully keep the player out of the know. For me, I think about Dark Souls 1 and its ability to have a complicated combat system that players can learn the basics of without spilling any of the deeper mechanics in an obvious way. Spell casting, for example, isn’t something that’s listed as having anything to do with dexterity, but absolutely does work in tandem with the attribute. Dexterity speeds up spell casting, and this is only something someone could know through self made trials (or data mining).
This is a very specific example, and a very bizarre one at that, given the mathematics behind the mechanics of the casting speed in DS1, but ultimately the specifics aren’t important for this discussion. What is important is the key takeaway: FromSoftware decided to hide specific information about the game from the player and let the studious among their fans find out the info for themselves.
For game developers, specifically, this is something I want to see more of. Patch notes, official game guides, in-game books and descriptions, and all of the information you can get in-game should function this way. They should be minor, incomplete, or non-existent altogether, at least in some regards.
A player shouldn’t be mapping out their game route before they’ve begun playing a game. And when developers show every little number and change in the game as they’re released, it feels like the game itself is becoming detached from the world its trying to pull its players into. Its no longer a separate entity to escape in, it’s a piece of art that’s not only stuck in the real world, but requires real world study to get the most out of before its even been played.
This philosophy I’m advocating for, which is a philosophy in favor of partially or completely hidden mechanics in-game, isn’t a philosophy that’s going to work for all games. And I completely understand that point. If tomorrow, Riot Games began releasing “secret” updates every week that changes the numbers of specific champs in League of Legends, I’d wager the uproar from the casual and competitive gaming community would be loud enough to force Riot to revert any and all changes immediately.
But for game developers who are creating pieces of art that are meant to be learned about in-game and in real-time, I’d like to offer a piece of advice, if I can be so bold: Act as if you’re developing an RPG / MMO that’s going to be played by millions of people every day, concurrently. Ask yourself, “Would I want to tell players that this is the META at this stage of the game? Would I want to disclose this mechanic? Would it be far more enjoyable for players to discover this on their own?” I hope the answers to these question outside of a competitive PvP game, is “No, No, and Yes, of course it would.“
Transparency and the 2000’s
I remember playing OSRS back when it was just RS in 2007 and just walking around, having zero clue what I was doing. That not knowing made every little thing worth doing because I didn’t know if what I was doing was effective or not. “Is this fishing method the best XP/HR? Who knows? No one knows, so I don’t care.” That’s the mentality of a player who’s having fun, and that mentality only exists in ignorance.
There’s a reason people still talk about the 2000’s as the golden age for gaming, and I reckon it isn’t because developers have gotten worse at their jobs or because games are objectively less fun. I think its because gamers as a whole are able to cipher information about what they’re playing a lot easier, and when developers display that information and leave zero room for experimentation on the part of the player, the game in question becomes solved faster than developers can possibly keep up with.
The solution? Lose the transparency. Create games that obfuscate information. But provide players with the necessary tools to experiment with the mechanics of the game themselves: leave clues via NPC’s, dialogue, or other means to teach players about your game without handing them the keys to victory for little to no work. And if you as a developer can manage it, release updates that are either partially or completely secret. If you buff, nerf, or otherwise change something in game, let players know that something has been changed and watch them scurry about trying to find out what it is and how it effects the way they play. That, right there, is half the fun.
Games are fun. Games are especially fun when you’re bad at them. Stop giving me the tools to be decent at every game before I’ve had my fun with them and let me just be terrible for a while.
I was a little late to the Morrowind party having only played it for the first time roughly three years ago, and I’m a little late to its birthday. The role playing game was released on the first of May, 2002, and made up what was the third title in the Elder Scrolls series. Its a game that’s not widely played in the gaming community, but it is certainly a game that’s widely praised. People who don’t really care for the game’s outdated mechanics, textbook levels of reading, or punishing (and tedious) combat system often refer to appeals of “It’s just not my type of game” arguments when explaining why they don’t like it. The number of people who would outright say its just not a good game are small in number, and that should tell you a lot about the weight the game holds in terms of respect out of the gaming community: Its just about beyond major criticism, culturally speaking.
This doesn’t mean that the game is actually without its flaws to criticize, but it does mean that, generally speaking, the pros inside of the game’s inherent design are stronger than the cons. In fact, many people point towards a game like Morrowind when making arguments for why the early 2000’s were the “golden days of gaming.” It was a time when you couldn’t google a solution to every single problem you ran into when playing through a game, you had to just be bad at the game, can you believe it?
What this meant was that the tedious, confusing combat, the breakable mechanics, the quest lines with confusing directions, and all of the reading that came with that set of design choices were essential to the experience. In my first personal playthrough, for example, I found myself not only reading every single instruction given to me by quest givers, but also writing notes down: Cardinal directions, odd comments that may or may not have special meaning, maps, and dungeons I find along the way during my travels. I still have the notebook with all of that in there. And I wrote all that down despite there being an in-game notebook, not because I was going out of my way to role play, but because a game like Morrowind, of which there are few, if any, benefits greatly from the player acting as his or her own detective.
The in-game books, which a game like Skyrim. Morrowind’s younger brother, is so well known for, aren’t just extra flavor on an already completed game in Morrowind. There are textbooks detailing the inner workings of alchemy, which act as an in-game guide to the most broken skill in the game. There are journals of mages, alchemists, and warriors and their lives which give either nothing at all, or hints to the player regarding combat and the like. There are whole documentations in-game of all the gods and their cultures that the player can delve into. For lore? Sure. But also for in-game knowledge that translates into a stronger character.
I’m just spitballing some thoughts about the game out here, so this article isn’t going to be very coherent or streamlined, as you can see, but its probably the most prominent quality about the game: everything you need to know, you can find, research, and learn about in the actual game itself. No googling, no looking up guides, and no special addition developer notes required. Have a question? Look for a book seller in-game and find a book on the topic, read the whole fuckin’ thing and apply your new knowledge.
Stuck on a quest? Go back to the quest giver, ask ’em what to do, and write all of that down. Do everything they say to a T and, if you’re still stuck, its entirely possible they just gave you bad directions (seriously, they can do that.)
The game asks a lot of your time, but still respects it, which is an extraordinarily hard balancing act and one that a modern game, like Elden Ring (review coming soonish), simply cannot follow despite being nearly 20 years newer. All of the studying, walking, training, and reading is an investment in a game that rewards you by giving you greater and greater power. Not just power, but ways to break the game. The secret sauce being that the most powerful ways to become strong in the game is not by training your character, but by learning more and more about the game itself. That is to say, a newbie with maxed stats is infinitely weaker than a veteran starting at level 1 simply because, in Morrowind, mind beats matter. All the same, I’m sure many veterans would take being bad at the game for a chance at being able to play it all over again without prior knowledge of its inner workings.
So happy 20th, Morrowind. There may be many role playing games to come that try new things and advance the medium, but I doubt there will be any that are as nearly perfect, as special, as you. If we get something as half as good in the next decade, I’d say the gaming industry is doing alright.
Inscryption is a great game that I haven’t finished. This article is a short review of my first impressions of it and nothing more. No spoilers ahead. If you haven’t played the game yet, take my advice and set this article aside until you have. Despite the lack of spoilers, I’m still going to touch on some of the magic that makes this game what it is, or what it has been so far. Perhaps not reading any of it is best if you want to keep the hints out of mind.
Never did I ever expect the gameplay of this rogue-like deck builder to have its narrative so closely tied to its gameplay. Sure, deck building games often build their worlds around the cards they produce, but none that I’ve played have ever had their cards specifically exist in the world that’s in the world or, more to the point, cards that change gameplay that’s within the gameplay.
Confused? Yeah, well, that’s Inscryption. According to the reviews, playing the game blind was the move, so I put my knife up and downloaded it not knowing what I was going to get myself into. The gameplay itself is reminiscent of the classic Magic the Gathering format tied in with Hearthstone-like mechanics: the game board reacts to you and your pieces and the horror atmosphere is knit like a sleeve against the gruesome nature of what you’re doing: playing a card game with trapped souls.
The gameplay feels like Hearthstone more than it does like Magic, despite the format being closer to the latter. Perhaps it’s because of the personality each card has, or maybe it’s the just a matter of habituation for me. In any case, this game plays like a Hearthstone that costs a flat 20 dollars instead of 100 dollars per expansion. And the content within it is far more satisfying to delve into (and far more fun, too, if that matters.) I say this as someone who reached rank 75 Legend in Hearthstone’s competitive ladder, not a casual who played the game for a month or two and left it alone: Inscryption is the better game in almost every objective sense.
Incryption’s Best Magic Trick | Perspective and Scope
Two attributes every game has, and often overlooks. Perspective is the “picture in the picture” to paraphrase. Its the view the player will have while playing, and what a developer crafts from day one. Its a literal perspective on the part of the player’s eyes, but also an idea of what lies ahead, crafted by the player’s brain using the ingredients a developer lays in front of him or her. The perspective a game offers up is encased within a genre, artwork, writing, and audio design. In Dark Souls, this perspective is thrown right in the face of the player as a form of helplessness brought on by a murky aesthetic and overwhelming difficulty. In Inscryption’s case, the perspective of helplessness and curiosity is brought to the player via a horror-like atmosphere and a collection of incomplete tales. Tales that the player is practically begged to follow up on: a suspicious character, a new line of dialogue or book entries, as well as hidden secrets that alter gameplay. They all work together to build what is essentially one big question: What does this game mean to tell me?
It would be so embarrassing, almost crude, to write the following sentence, but by default I am going to do it, and you can’t stop me: Inscyption is a page turner. Oof!
Ignoring the fact that the gameplay itself has an addictive quality to it that I’m going to chalk up to sheer craftsmanship on the part of the developers, this game forces you to continue playing match after match just to try and figure out what the hell is happening and how you can overcome it. I haven’t played a game like this in the last two to three years. In fact, almost every game I have played in recent times feels like a chore just to go back to. And I ain’t talking about League of Addiction, I’m talking about big hitters like Fallout: New Vegas and Skyrim. These are great games that just don’t draw a player into it in the same way Inscryption, somehow, manages to do.
What is Inscryption’s Scope?
Scope is a developer’s ultimate vision and, in this game’s case, is hidden from the player just behind the game’s perspective. And I mean really hidden. I cannot tell you how confused I was to have the main menu be a function of the game’s story telling and plot progression, but once I figured it out after getting through that part of the game, I was completely blown away. To have a cheap game deliver on its promise ten times over only to expand into something completely different… I just have no words, except for all of these ones. It’s been two days since I managed to get through that part of the game and I’m still in awe of how an indie studio can craft something together such as Inscryption, and I’m not even finished with the thing yet. Without ruining anything, I’ll say that the game’s scope hits a point where you think its done enough, and then it takes another step, and then another, and so on. It seems to never end.
Inscryption has wit, incredible writing, a vision, grand scope, and it doesn’t play by contemporary rules. Its the kind of game that is going to be borrowed and stolen from for the next decade, and it will likely only receive a light nudge by a small portion of the gaming community as credit despite being a contender for game of the year.