Alright! Did everyone have a great V-Day? I did, I spent it working and surprised my wife outside of her work with a rose. She thought I was going to be gone the entire night, so I waited outside her work, took her home and had a wonderful dinner. Also, we watched Crazy Stupid Love (great movie).
So lets get onto the juicy stuff.
Today is a big news day, a lot of stuff being announced, like a Spanish localization and a console version. Spanish localization is awesome, console version, not so much. Even though it is a free game, console ports of MMO’s don’t work well. There, I said it. I do not enjoy console versions of games that deserve to be on the PC (all MMOs basically). If it is a game that has development started on it from the beginning to be both console and PC, then it works (Bethesda games is an example), but stating that they have a small team working on it but focusing on the PC means the console version doesn’t have much luck in doing well. If it does, awesome! I have nothing against console players and a port will definitely expand the player base. But if you have to play it on mouse and keyboard anyways, what is the point? I am looking at you FFXI!
Anyways, today’s topic is pacing in video games. About a month ago, I talked about content gating and grinds. Generally speaking, in today’s gaming world, grinds fill the MMO space, you grind out levels, you grind out gear, you grind out extra stats because of an alternate advancement system. In all honesty, sometimes, what might feel like a grind is actually just the developers creating a pace to ease players into. This is especially true when the game introduces new systems that have not been explored in previous games or versions of the game. Is Guild Wars 2 reinventing the genre? Not as much as we all would like to believe. But what they are doing is introducing a lot of concepts that have easily fallen into the shadows of the past. Also, most people are quick to see things like leveling up as a grind, rather than a system for pacing to allow the players to get used to the system without shooting themselves in the foot.
As most of you know by this point, I am still learning quite a bit about the original Guild Wars. Unlike most games, hitting the level cap in Guild Wars really doesn’t mean anything like it does in WoW or Rift. All of those games force you to level up so that you can partake of end game content like raids. Guild Wars, hitting 20 is just something you do while you do the campaign. Guild Wars is also not technically an MMO but has a lot of the same qualities (persistent world is the only differing factor between it and traditional MMOs). In all actuality, Guild Wars paces players very differently than other MMOs with the gradual leveling up and acquiring new skills model.
So what exactly is pacing? Pacing is the act of playing barriers in front of the player that allows them to grow in strength at a rate that isn’t overwhelming. New players that tend to get overwhelmed by large number of skills, choices and other factors tend to leave the game. There are a lot of different types of pacing. As stated above, the “gain a level get a skill” model is by far the most popular. Most games have a simple storyline at the start to ease players into the much larger picture of things. Generally, you are not thrust into a story as complex as LOST right off the bat. Actually, LOST is a great example of pacing in a story (despite it not being a game). The story starts off with a bunch of people crashing onto an island, you find out then that there are other people living on the island and a smoke monster. The entire point of season 1 is to get off the island. However, come 6th season, you find out the island is actually some type of lid for the container of all the worlds evil, that there are two siblings (one good and one bad) and then there is purgatory. Also, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense watching it either until the last episode. But that is how pacing for story works. Nightfall starts off as this war against the coursairs, then it turns into a war against Kourna and then its a war against and ancient and forgotten god. World of Warcraft has a story, but nobody actually reads the quest text. Fallout 3 starts off with you just leaving the vault and then fighting for the freedom of the wasteland.
Skill based pacing is to geared towards making sure that players grasp what they do to make the most use of them. As a Shaman in WoW, you start off with a few abilities that are all effective. However, by level 10, you get a handful of more skills that continue to improve combos and to get players geared towards a specific play style. As a shaman, by about level 30, you will have decided if you like the melee shaman, caster shaman or the healer shaman. Then you gain more abilities that continue to improve your combo of choice. Rift had a bit more creative form of pacing in this regard because your skills were tied directly to the number of points you placed in a talent tree. Guild Wars took a completely different approach in that you actually unlock skills as you progress through the story. You also had to buy each and every skill you wanted to get which made you choose which skills you wanted to use. However, I find that Guild Wars didn’t pace very well in that you would go long chunks of story before you actually got new skills and skills got very expensive the more you bought. It was very easy to get stuck with a few skills that look good on paper, but do not actually turn out quite like you thought. Note, this is all from a single player perspective, if you are in a guild, then everything is quite doable with people. For more information, here is a link:
So what about Guild Wars 2? Outside of a few bits and pieces of information, we do not really know much about the game. There is the personal story and everything is introduced as dynamic content (which basically means that each play through will yield a different story). From what we have seen at the demos, the starting zones have the same dynamic events that run on a very consistent pace. Outside of the starting zone is where this statement actually becomes true once you have a whole lot larger world to explore. But we have seen things like the Shatterer being a level 50 event and there are 80 levels in total. So without anything to actually play, it is impossible to tell if the story pacing is actually any good or not. I hope so, but statements like the end-game is the game might mean the story is highly complex out of the gate.
Most interestingly enough is the pacing in skill development. Each class has the same set of skills, some classes get different skills based on their weapon selection (like the Elementalist who actually has the most skills available in the entire game), being able to swap weapons mid combat to unlock other skills. The most interesting method of actually acquiring skills is that you actually have to use those skills and that weapon to acquire them. If you choose to only use an Axe as a Warrior up to level cap, then you will only have the 5 skills you can gain from using the Axe. You cannot gain skills for weapons you do not use. You do not have to go to a trainer and purchase the skills, you use them and they become unlocked for immediate use. It can be assumed that the fifth skill will take longer than the second and you always start off with the first one (no auto attack, so you kind of have to have at least 1). As of now, the gaining of elite skills and utility skills came from doing tasks in the game world, but ANet is currently changing it along with the trait system to keep players playing together rather than splitting them up so they can get their respective utility skills. I honestly hope that they work like a point system for unlocking them. You get points for doing dynamic events (like 1 point for each level of participation) that you can use to unlock Utility, Elite, Healing skills and Traits. This type of system would definitely encourage players to play together in addition to creating a good pace that as you play the game, you unlock things.
Pacing is a very important thing in games. Overwhelmed players tend to quit and never come back. However, the rate in which pacing takes place is very important. If the game takes too long to rev up, then players get bored and stop playing. A statement by Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation in regards to Final Fantasty XIII, it takes 20 hours of gameplay for the game to get interesting. I don’t know about you, but why would anyone want to sink 20 hours into a game just for the game to get interesting. However, fi the game paces way too quickly, than you find that you are done with the game and get bored. In fact, I have played some games that feel too quickly and it is because you beat it within 10 hours. For myself, a good set of pacing is about an hour for the game’s story to get interesting. And by interesting, I don’t mean super complex or anything. I mean that the story has to be gripping enough for me to be interested yet understandable so that I don’t have to do hours of research just to understand what is going on.
All in all, pacing and grinding can easily go hand in hand, yet are completely different things. Pacing in Guild Wars 2 sounds like its going to be very even and engaging. The skill setup makes sense and makes you have to play the game to understand the game (rather than getting skills that do not necessarily apply to you as in WoW with a tri-tree system). The story sounds like it will be engaging from the start of the game with the end game being the game approach. Overall, as I say with almost every post, without an actual game, we cannot really say anything for certain. I have faith that GW2 will be outstanding and that the pacing will feel just right. Despite not actually liking the pacing of GW, I do very much enjoy the game as a whole.