Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hardcore does not mean stupid

Wizardry Online just launched.  It is a low graphics, tiny, free to play MMO marketed as the most hardcore fantasy MMO every created.  The designers seem to have confused hardcore design with bad design somewhere along the way though.  I can see how that happens... you think back to ridiculously difficult old games and remember the sorts of mechanics they had and then you stuff your game full of those mechanics because you can't tell the difference.

The shining jewel in the crown is rolling character stats to see how good you are.  There are arguments made in oldschool DnD groups that rolling stats is fun.  You get to see what sort of character you are and you have to roll with it in sort of an improv way.  Not really my style but if people like to be pushed into a role rather than custom build it, go nuts.  The trouble with WO is that they have done away with the roleplaying element and latched firmly onto the power level element.  You just roll characters over and over, each time getting a particular number for your roll which determines how powerful you will be.  The great majority of rolls are between 6-9, getting a 12 takes a little while but is a really meaningful upgrade, and some dude on the forums talked about spending seven hours rolling to get a 32.  The maximum roll is 80.

So yeah, the difference between 8 and 12 is noticeable and it is possible but fantastically unlikely that you get an 80.  This means that people are very handsomely rewarded for spending hours or days at the character creation screen rolling over and over until they get a roll over their required integer.  That isn't hardcore, it is just awful.  WO is hugely gated by power and has permanent death so it is critical that you do everything you can to maximize your potential.  In the long run it is certainly optimal to spend truly staggering amounts of time rolling up stats rather than playing the game.  Thankfully bots will be able to do this and you can just start up a WO account, run a bot for a month, and be awesome.  Huzzah?

Don't worry though, once you spend a month getting a 75 for your character the game has PVP all the time, everywhere, and when you die all of your stuff gets stolen unless you pay real money to keep it.  Also, your character will die permanently sometimes and you have to start again from scratch.  I am not a big fan of games where the players who have been around awhile can trivially murder anyone they want, steal all of their stuff, and sometimes remove that character from the game forever.  I guess you would call that hardcore but it sure doesn't seem fun.

When I think of hardcore play I think of things like the WOW's famous hardmodes (I am dating myself here) like Yogg'Saron, The Lich King, or Kael'Thas.  You had to spend time prepping but then you had to be GOOD.  WO seems to be all about levelling past the content until you can 1 shot everything and then farming it till you can 1 shot the next dungeon.  You can't afford to goof around since regenerating health and mana costs cash and there is perma death so everyone farms trivial content forever.  Give me hardcore that is hard, not hardcore that is enormous boring timesink occasionally punctuated by being ganked by someone you can't hope to defeat.


  1. I definitely think rolling for stats is a hardcore mechanic. It may not be a good one, and that range is awfully huge, but it certainly feels both nostalgic and hardcore to me.

  2. It sounds awfully hardcore to me, but probably not the "most hardcore" ever. There are MUDs still running and many of those feature permanent death and always on PvP. I don't think you understand the culture of those games.

    First of all, people won't just farm trivial content forever to level up. Do you know why? Because someone who is much better at the game than they are will level up faster than them. Then the higher level person will go around killing off people who don't "deserve" to be the level that they are.

    Secondly, precisely because these games have very bad mechanics it is important to understand the mechanics incredibly well and capitalize on the mistakes with them. That means that playing and finding things out might be better than rolling stats for a month. Sure, maybe one day you'll want to roll stats for a month, but there might by player killers who just hunt people who rolled stats for a month all day.

    There aren't going to be jerks and random gankers. I mean, there will be, but they will have to prove themselves worthy of being random gankers. Think about what happened in WoW - random jerk decides to gank people, those people call guildmates or announce in trade chat that there is a rogue in the AH. Other high level characters team up on them and it gets to the point that it doesn't matter how good they are they will die. The same thing will happen, but when the ganker dies they are dead.

    I'm not saying you'd like this game, or that I would like this game, or that I can imagine how enough people would like this game that it could be remotely commercially viable. It's just that I don't think it will play out the way you describe and I think it sounds intensely hardcore.

  3. There are huge differences between WOW ganking and ganking in WO. The two real ones are that there is *massive* profit potential in ganking people and that death can be permanent. Ganking in WOW gets you nothing so mostly people don't bother. If I could potentially get absolute top tier equipment by massacreing people though, I can definitely see doing so as my primary method of advancement. Also, rushing in to save your buddy is potentially very dangerous; if you end up fighting someone better than you your character may well be dead permanently too!

    I do agree that in some games you don't want to farm trivial stuff forever because harder things are more rewarding. In this game though you don't regenerate health and mana at all, you have to go back to the inn and sleep for awhile. Fighting monsters that aren't completely trivial is disastrous because you have to constantly rest. The only way to grind constantly is to grind on trivial mobs.

    I guess I should note that this game is definitely hardcore but it unfortunately incorporated a bunch of mechanics that are both hardcore and crappy. It is entirely possible to make a game that is hardcore and not crappy but they didn't do that. I support this thesis by noting that the game was pulled from Steam because people were losing their characters permanently due to bugs and disconnects.