Go Back   Star Trek Online > Information and Discussion > Star Trek Online General Discussion
Login

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
Okay... My own lengthy history of interaction with Cryptic dates back to interacting with them at Comic-Con before City of Heroes launch. I enjoy their games but I have noticed several tendencies in terms of their design and their internal culture...

Someone in another thread on the STO forums accused them of being gamist. I think this was in reference to Ron Edwards' GNS system. Ignoring the section of the relevant Wikipedia article on balance, I think this stands out:

Quote:
Combat is frequently heavily emphasised, as is a diversity in options for short-term problem solving (i.e., long lists of highly specific spells or combat techniques). Randomisation (i.e., Fortune methods) exist primarily to provide a gamble and allow players to risk more for higher stakes (for instance, attempting a more effective hit in combat requires a penalty on the dice roll), rather than modelling strict probability.
Examples include, Magic: The Gathering, Chess, and most computer games.
This is in contrast to narrativist (somewhat counter-intuitively being about emergent stories that come through player interaction) and simulationist gaming (where the rules of the universe and immersion trump all). This is all from a theory of gaming rooted in tabletop play, one area I've been studying on a ascholarly level a lot lately.

I think what might also be fair is to look at the ludological vs. narratological debate.

Summed up from wikipedia:

Quote:
This disagreement has been called the ludology vs. narratology debates. The narratological view is that games should be understood as novel forms of narrative and can thus be studied using theories of narrative (Murray, 1997; Atkins, 2003). The ludological position is that games should be understood on their own terms. Ludologists have proposed that the study of games should concern the analysis of the abstract and formal systems they describe. In other words, the focus of game studies should be on the rules of a game, not on the representational elements which are only incidental (Aarseth, 2001; Eskelinen, 2001; Eskelinen, 2004). The idea that a videogame is “radically different to narratives as a cognitive and communicative structure”[8] has led the development of new approaches to criticism that are focused on videogames as well adapting, repurposing and proposing new ways of studying and theorizing about videogames.[9][10] A recent approach towards game studies starts with an analysis of interface structures and challenges the keyboard-mouse paradigm with what is called "ludic interfaces".
In other words, are games ideally understood as a story-driven media experience or are they an abstract play system in which story is incidental? I'm not gonna lie: I see some value in both perspectives. Jennifer Hepler, a dev over at Bioware, caused a huge controversy when someone found five year old comments from her suggesting that, if cutscenes should be skippable, action gameplay should also be skippable (calculating the result to match average play), allowing people who want to experience games as interactive fiction. She was bombarded with lots of ugly statements, including people trying to goad her into suicide with personal phonecalls... and while I have seen several Cryptic devs express outrage over her treatment, I've also heard rumblings that many or most at Cryptic still think her ideas are entirely wrong.

Personally, I think her position on skipping gameplay was EXTREME but NOT necessarily wrong and that you need to accept that her attitude represents a large and valid opinion held by people who may be poorly represented in gaming but who are valid consumers. I think the Forbes article I linked covers the social issues aspect of "gamer entitlement" or "gamist entitlement" nicely.

And I've noticed observations from other people echoing this in terms of recent decisions in STO, ranging from the ranking system (they want us to be an admiral so we can control more ships, eventually, rather than a more IP appropriate Captain) to the camera changes (breaking ship zoom-ins to emphasize gameplay and the absence of clipping while making cinematic play impossible in a cruiser) to the absence of non-gamelike features (meaningful social hubs, lack of emphasis on interiors).

I think you can see this in longterm features where they develop mechanics faster than they can use them. This has been true in virtually all of their games where a frequently lobbed criticism is that they place little emphasis on story, that story seems like a prop to hold up gameplay. The opposite criticism has been lobbed at BioWare, sure, but in many respects I don't sense a co-equal partnership at either company.

Cryptic also introduces new game mechanics and art assets at a much faster rate than they introduce content. Sure, you could chalk this up to F2P... But they did this in their subscription games. There, you could chalk it up to the cash shop... but it's also how they operated when they ran City of Heroes which didn't have a cash shop for the majority of the time they ran that game. And that's probably because Cryptic exec Jack Emmert, historically has been opposed to them.

He once said, "Microtransactions are the biggest bunch of nonsense. I like paying one fee and not worrying about it – like my cellphone." He has since revised his position because he sees it as an essential way for games without a lot of upfront capital to make games.

This has been discussed before on the forums. But it occurs to me that there's a key part of this that hasn't been looked at. WHY he doesn't like them. I think it's because he is coming from a gamist perspective, which is interesting from a guy whose whole academic career was not in game design but as a student of the Ancient Mediterranean world and who is an avowed mythology buff.

But this goes back to Emmert's claim to infamy with some CoX players, one I supported him on as a player, but one that is a milestone in Cryptic's history: Enhancement Diversification. It was a substantial nerf to promote game balance and avoid the scenarios that emerged where it became routine for players to team up and herd hundreds of enemies to farm for experience. A lot of people expressed dissatisfaction with the nerf because it diminished their feeling of power. Emmert subsequently expressed regret over it and has basically said that while nerfs do not ordinarily cost players, the handling of that nerf cost Cryptic thousands of players. This is what led to the "Cryptic listens" policy we have now.

Now from a game perspective, I think ED may have been the right call, handled poorly. I think that's Emmert's own stance. But it occurs to me, taking this altogether, that ED may represent a philosophical flaw in how Cryptic views MMOs that hasn't been addressed and hasn't been "listened" to: that is whether MMOs ARE primarily games. And I think the fact that people enjoyed being overpowered in a super-hero game (go figure) and hold a grudge to this day, maybe indicates that Cryptic was right about GAME design but was wrong to be DESIGNING A GAME.

Is an MMO primarily a game or is it a social media narrative interactive experience where the game-like elements are not nearly that relevant?

I think I've outlined how a lot of the big issues with STO seem tied into this. My feeling is that the same can be true with Champions from what I've seen.

And if so, I think what we need to be calling for is not isolated buffs or nerfs or fixes, not one more mission series or one less camera nerf, but a fundamental reworking of philosophy at Cryptic. And if they change the philosophy, everything else falls into place.

Please, discuss.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 2
03-13-2012, 02:38 AM
I plan on coming back to this thread to elaborate on my point after I fall unconscious for a few hours, but the TL,DR version of it will be something like "it depends on the players."
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 3
03-13-2012, 02:42 AM
I'm not sure whether things really need to be considered in such a technical fashion. I think it really comes down to the fact Cryptic did not understand the Star Trek IP. They sort of managed to make a game where the mission content drove the game, but then stopped short. We have storyline missions, but they're all pretty much action oriented with only limited plot development.

In fact, STO should have been developed more along the lines of SW:TOR, with more emphasis put into the stories and character interactions. You can still have a lot of action, but the pendulum was pushed too far towards just action, and not enough to really immerse you in the universe.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 4
03-13-2012, 02:49 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Leviathan99
Is an MMO primarily a game or is it a social media narrative interactive experience where the game-like elements are not nearly that relevant?
The term MMO is simply too general to address this particular question.

MMORPG, MMOAG, MMOFPS, etc, etc, etc.
Themepark, directed sandbox, sandbox, etc, etc, etc.

A "MMO" could be primarily a game. It could be little more than a 3D chat client set in a perpetual world.

Which, brings up a point, in a sense. Consider the role-playing rooms on Prodigy back in the early '90s. Text is all you had. If you were doing something, you had to narrate it. Move to Ultima Online in the late '90s. You did not have to narrate everything. You simply took actions - they were shown. As technology advanced, you needed to describe less as more was shown.

At the same time, we experienced that shift from sandbox to directed sandbox to themepark. We went from personal and group stories to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people playing out the same story.

Single player/co-op games in a perpetual world.

That is where the market wanted to go. That is where developers went.

So we had an increase in instant gratification. We had an increase in chasing the next shiny object.

People complained that quest text took too long to read - they did not care. People complained that it took too long to hunt down where to go for quests - they did not want to explore. Wham, bam - you could get a quick synopsis of Kill X of Y and a little arrow telling you exactly where to go.

Story mattered less. Min/max gear grinds ruled the day. The journey disappeared and the destination no longer mattered.

For some MMOs. Not for others. However, the data tends to show which do well - which are lucky to do well - and show how many simply crash and burn.

It is a business. Companies will attempt to develop where the market is...

...it's kind of funny, because gamification has entered our world in many other places. It's where much of the world's at.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 5
03-13-2012, 02:50 AM
Quote:
I'm not sure whether things really need to be considered in such a technical fashion. I think it really comes down to the fact Cryptic did not understand the Star Trek IP. They sort of managed to make a game where the mission content drove the game, but then stopped short. We have storyline missions, but they're all pretty much action oriented with only limited plot development.

In fact, STO should have been developed more along the lines of SW:TOR, with more emphasis put into the stories and character interactions. You can still have a lot of action, but the pendulum was pushed too far towards just action, and not enough to really immerse you in the universe.
Yep, TOR is doing a lot of stuff STO should have done in regards to story. There is still room for more.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 6
03-13-2012, 04:07 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by MustrumRidcully View Post
Yep, TOR is doing a lot of stuff STO should have done in regards to story. There is still room for more.
It's funny to me because, for me, IP dictates philosophy. Getting to the point of what letters follow MMO (MMOFPS, MMORPG, etc.) I think the IP and not the engine or the designers (once the IP is selected) end up deciding that.

In many respects, I think BioWare and Cryptic each designed their model for the wrong IP.

IMHO, Star Wars should be all action and space action.

The idea that an IP known for technical brilliance and shallow, wooden acting from otherwise brilliant actors has a relationship system and an IP known for technical mediocrity and lavish, over-the-top character acting emphasizes combat and setpieces and doesn't have a relationship system seems backwards.

And I think we really have to get to the core of what it means when people say that Cryptic doesn't "understand the IP."

Because that implies that they haven't seen it. I know they have. I know Kestrel has read every novel. I know they watch the shows regularly as a team. I know most of them have watched all or most of Star Trek many multiple times over. I think most could elaborate on their opinions regarding design issues or philosophical considerations of the IP, could make a case for their favorite series or Captain, etc.

And that is, defensively, how I'd expect a dev to respond to that complaint.

I don't think that's what people mean when they say Cryptic doesn't understand the IP. I think it's more accurate to say that they aren't "representing the IP" and that they seem unwilling to make concessions to act to the detriment of gameplay or game design or game development to present a character rich media experience, even on very minor points like camera zoom. I'm not saying they need to make something that ISN'T a game but they do need to make something that is less purely a game, that is willing to compromise on game-like aspects.

Thus far, the only way in which being a game gets trumped by being Star Trek comes in the form of the odd wall of text or an unskippable cutscene. And that basically just means that they put the game on hold to remind us it's Star Trek. Where I see an unwillingness is to fundamentally compromise game balance, gameplay, or mechanics of how we play in favor of the IP. And I think unless they start tailoring every game they produce, philosophically, to compromise game design in favor of IP experience, they'll get labeled a shoddy MMO factory.

And I think that's unfair because they're full of talented people. If they had a team the size of WoW and the quality of employee they have now, they'd dominate. But they don't have that team size and so if they set out to focus on purely designing a game, they'll fail every time next to almost every competitor that can afford a larger team. If they set out to create a fairly solid game with a great overall EXPERIENCE in the non-game-like aspects, the quality of every team member can at least shine.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 7
03-13-2012, 04:19 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Leviathan99
I think it's more accurate to say that they aren't "representing the IP"
I generally have a problem with statements such as this. It assumes that everybody sees the IP as the same thing, which is hardly the case.

Could you elaborate on where you see it not representing the IP? What you see as the Star Trek IP...?
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 8
03-13-2012, 04:34 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by virusdancer
I generally have a problem with statements such as this. It assumes that everybody sees the IP as the same thing, which is hardly the case.

Could you elaborate on where you see it not representing the IP? What you see as the Star Trek IP...?
The IP is many things.

But there are consistent elements or it wouldn't be one IP.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 9
03-13-2012, 04:43 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Leviathan99
The IP is many things.

But there are consistent elements or it wouldn't be one IP.
Which does not answer the question of what are the consistent elements of the Star Trek IP that Star Trek Online does not represent...

...if they are only offered some vague statement that they are not representing the IP, how could they ever represent it?
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
# 10
03-13-2012, 04:49 AM
Yes, every MMO I've seen is a game first and a narrative second, if a narrative at all. Even SW:TOR, the most narrative driven game I've played in a long time, is still a game first that rewards gameplay with narration, along with a very normal bag of experience and goodies. You need only take a stroll through the SW:TOR forums to see that the majority of the discussions are about game mechanic changes.

I think this is always going to be the case. Ignoring for the moment MMO's like World of Tanks which has a maniacally long character grind and make their money by selling experience boosts, MMO's have a plurality of their player base at level cap. Most players will reach the level cap, and the end of the games narrative, long before the developer is prepared to raise it. What do you do on a game that is mostly narrative driven when the narrative has run out? According to the SW:TOR forum the answer is 'go to the forums and complain about PVP' 'start farming heroic mode flashpoints' or 'roll an alt and see a different narrative' in essence the same answers that you get in any MMORPG.

I don't really know what else to say about it, it just seems patently obvious, which I've always believed to be a terrible reason to believe something. How do you determine if an MMO is more a narrative than it is a game? What standards would you use to judge that. What would an MMO look like if it were more narrative than game?
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off


All times are GMT -7. The time now is 11:25 AM.