Monday, September 25, 2006

The Lesser of Two Weevils

If you've seen Captain & Commander, I love that scene.

Anyway, looking at Nuclear War some more, I realize that it shares something with some of my other favorite games, including Diablo 2, Star Wars: Battlefront and Neverwinter Nights.

All of these games present the player with situations in which there is no obviously right answer. They force the player to choose between two evils or two goods...both tactically and strategically.

Diablo 2
  • Strategically, the player has to choose between character customizations, through skills, attributes and items. I doubt many players are ever completely certain they have spent their skill points and attribute points in the best way (for reasons beyond the mere desire for optimum power). The item system of that game is legendary, constantly forcing players to switch out gear, because the dynamics prevent objectively optimum gear sets.
  • Tactically, players have to decide which mobs of a group to attack first or last, when to fight and when to run, when to use health or mana potions without wasting them, which skills to use, etc.

Neverwinter Nights
  • Strategically, players choose between subjectively valuable skills and attributes, like in Diablo 2. They also must question which NPC henchmen best augments their character or would be needed for a particular mission.
  • Tactically, the player makes the same decisions as in Diablo 2.

Star Wars: Battlefront
  • Strategically, the player decides what order to attack enemy planets, what planetary bonus to choose for that battle, and perhaps (if they're familiar with the battleground) what class they will start out with.
  • Tactically, players choose a class and spawn location upon each life, which enemies to focus on, which spawn point to capture or defend, which weapons/skills to use, etc.

Nuclear War
The difference between strategy and tactics blurs in this game, because it's turn-based, so here I'll define strategy as the player's multi-nation (overall game) plan and tactics as the decisions in reaction to specific nations.
  • Strategically, the player starts out with a general plan based on the combination of personality types and populations of his/her opponents. The player probably has a playstyle preference as well (propogandist, stockpiler, etc), which the player decides early on to stick to or consider fluid. The strategy must repeatedly be amended in response to the shifting diplomacy, populations and destructive fortunes of opponents.
  • Tactically, players estimate the opponent's next move and supplies, in addition to the opponent's likely response to particular player actions. Honestly, this game involves more luck than tactics, but the player is having to make constant estimations and reactive actions.

Anyway, the benefits that grow out this sort of variation are replayability and experiences relatively unique to individual players.

Replayability is a powerful selling point. One of the factors contributing to Oblivion's success was its ability to advertise hundreds of hours of comparison to it's 12-20 hour competitors (limited game longevity, by the way, is what eventually convinced me, and perhaps others, to not buy Dark Messiah).

As I stated in a comment to my last blog, I don't buy games anymore that I think will last me less than a month. As long as there are games out there offering months of gameplay, I'm sure many others are considering the same thing in their purchasing decisions.

Experiences that are at least relatively unique to individual players is a factor that seems usually ignored by developers, yet it has such a significant effect. Human beings like to share knowledge. We enjoy both relaying and receiving information unfamiliar to us (assuming it's within one's realm of interests) more than talking about or seeing things we're already familiar with.

The first time a "10-ton" weight randomly fell out of the sky and crushed one of my cities into oblivion in Nuclear War, I'm sure that tale excited both me and my story's audience more than a story about my 100-megaton missile turning out to be a dud (much more common).

This was an ultimate failure of Everquest and many other games, which handicapped player uniqueness through optimum class-related gear and through encouragement of uniform gameplay styles (players of the same class play alike, players levelled by way of the same zones and monsters, etc).

In my opinion, these two criteria, replayability and experiences unique to individual players, should be present in nearly every game.

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