Monday, May 27, 2013

Will You Respect Your Game Mechanics In The Morning?

A quick aside: A while back, I was having a discussion about Champions Online with a friend and while describing the game, I mentioned that CO had crowd control mechanics, but didn't respect them. He asked me what the heck that meant, and to be honest it took me a couple of minutes to work it out in my own mind... but I think it is a valid concept.

RPGs and MMOs consist of lots of little game mechanics that interact to form the entire experience. When a design "respects" a particular mechanic, that means that the mechanic is a viable way to solve problems encountered in the game universe. In terms of combat and adventuring, a character can be build around this mechanic and perform to the level of his peers who use other means to get the same job done, or perform a specific useful function in a group situation to the expectation of the group... (that was a mouthful).

So, you can take holds, stuns, sleeps and other crowd control powers in Champions Online for PvE, but they last only a couple of seconds, are often resisted, and easily broken. You are really better off piling on the damage. It is much easier to kill enemies in CO than it is to hold them and thus the "controller" character does not perform up to the standard of the "damage dealer."

Compare that to the late City of Heroes, where crowd control could stop an entire group of enemies cold, allowing the controller to pick enemies off at a leisurely pace. In WoW and Everquest, crowd control was not that powerful, but performed a very specific function of handling adds and keeping encounters manageable. No such function exists in CO, and so I say that game does not respect its crowd control mechanics whereas WoW, EQ and CoH do.

While the discussion started with MMOs, I think that it applies to tabletop rpgs as well. An example that hit home for me was with my own game, Runebearer. I have an extensive alchemy section in the current game, but over the course of many years, it was barely used. Talking to a few long-time players, they said that alchemy was cool and had lots of neat stuff to offer, but was simply too much of a hassle with lots of limitations and costs associated with it. One player said, "I can collect ingredients, trade with town alchemists, take lots of time and spend lots of money, or I could just be a mage."  My design didn't respect the alchemy system, and so it was ignored by my players.

What other games have systems they don't respect? If you have any thoughts or examples, comment here and let's discuss them.