Game design strictly dependent on software development

I was reading the second part of an article on the evolution of level design in 3D games (mostly FPS) and it made me think that the game design has always evolved after new technology was available. In the FPS history the big titles have always corresponded to brand new engines and features. Significant advances in the technology to support new means of interaction.

This brings me to an older post:

One (of the many) requirements for new content is that it must be backed up by new systems.

Basically, content is a variation on systems.

You can only produce so much worthwhile content using a given system without having the player say, “It’s just another fedex quest, except I’m delivering jelly babies instead of flour” or “This monster is really just and orc with a different 3D model.”

Game design is and should be strictly connected to software development. Innovative games will need to be based also on significant progresses on the client and server technology. And this is also why innovation is more likely to come from consolidated, veteran companies instead of indie game development. Right now it looks like to have a mmorpg you just need chat functions, a trerrain engine, a pretty render for the water, a skybox, monsters and combat systems.

The high number of clones of mmorpgs is also due to the fact that the software development is much more complex and it barely progressed. Both EQ2 and WoW are supposed to drive the genre forward since they can take advantage from their many resources, but their upcoming expansions add very little on the front of software development. New levels, new zones, new monsters, new skills and spells. Stagnation. Maybe only the flying mount in WoW is something new.

I’m also thinking to Guild Wars. The second chapter is supposed to have roughly the same amount of content of the first chapter, in fact it was sold at the same price. But when the game came out I didn’t buy just the content. But also all the new technology that made the game possible. Technology that was then reused for the second chapter with very little improvements or additions.

The same with the upcoming release of “Episode 1” for Half-Life 2 (1 June). It isn’t expensive because they want to sell roughly six hours of content for 20$. But because the game is based on old technology (beside new filters like HDR) that is being reused, so the final price should also reflect this aspect. The production costs should be much lower. So the price.

It’s undeniable that when you pay for a game you also pay for the technology that made it possible. Episodic releases and expansion packs more and more cut to zero the software development and still pretend to be sold at a full price. This doesn’t sound right to me. Content isn’t “time wasted”. Content is variation and support for variation.

Beside the considerations about the costs, the main point is that the game design cannot progress without being integrated with an active software development. This is a CRITICAL issue for a mmorpg, whose technology research and progress is often completely abandoned just after the game is released (beside bug fixing).

It’s quite ovious that the limited life cycles of the current mmorpgs are a consequence of this behaviour. Software development stops and you can only stretch the game systems so far before the players see that there’s really nothing new beside cut&paste of the same stuff. The downward trends aren’t a rule. They are the consequence of a stagnation that comes as the result of a lack of support on the game. Even if mmorpgs continue to release expansions there’s often little to no development on the technology to support new features and evolve the game.

Immobility -> Stagnation -> Downward trends

The cause is still the lack of a true support.

At the same time this has also brought to the useless “sophistication” of the latest mmorpgs, with Vanguard as the most glaring example: aggro lists, multiple targets, complicated relationship and intergaction between the skills. All kind of GUI-intensive gameplay that I defined as a direct byproduct of the meta-game we are forced to play.

The way Raph rewrote my point:

he argues that the traditional healer role that exists in the modern MMORPGs only exists to fill a need in the core combat game system; that it is, in other words, purely mechanical, and present merely as a formal system, not because it captures the spirit of healing in any way.

Along those lines the current evolution (or better, convolution) of combat systems with the insane multiplication of hotbars, buttons, triggers, colored bars and pop-up messages.

It’s like if we hit a wall and are trying to compensate the lack of advance through the sophistication of what’s already available. A “specialization” of a genre out of its natural context and evolution.

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