Low-Energy, Easy Fun

Apparently, Halvorson’s latest book “Focus” was not as objective as her prior summary, skewing more heavily towards the advantages of being promotion-focused. So I haven’t bothered to read it yet, preferring to use the ideas in the summary as more of a springboard for my own thoughts.

(Fortunately, I’m not a career psychologist, so I don’t have to substantiate my hypotheses with research and evidence, and can just play around with thought experiments and musings for fun.)

I find myself drawn to the portion on “energy.” To recap:

When your goal is an achievement, a gain, you feel happy—joyful, cheerful, excited, or, in the vernacular of a typical teenager, totally stoked. It’s a high-energy kind of good feeling to reach a promotion goal.

It’s a very different kind of good to reach a prevention goal. When you are trying to be safe and secure, to avoid losing something, and you succeed, you feel relaxed—calm, at ease, peaceful. You breathe the sweet sigh of relief. This is a much more low-energy kind of good feeling, but not any less rewarding.

When you are going for gain, trying to accomplish something important to you, and you fail, you tend to feel sadness—dejected, depressed, despondent. As a teen might put it, totally bummed. It’s the low-energy kind of bad feeling—the kind that makes you want to lay on the couch all day with a bag of chips.

But failing to reach a prevention goal means danger, so in response you feel the high-energy kinds of bad feeling—anxiety, panic, nervousness, and fear. You freak out. Both kinds of feelings are awful, but very differently so.

I wonder if it might not help to explain why some gamers prefer more sedate types of gameplay – be it grinding for progress slowly, or a strategic challenge, or slower overall pacing.

In other words, we’re seeking the low-energy kinds of good feelings. We want to relax, be comfortable and content, be relieved, feel peace.

(Whether this has any correlation with being prevention-focused on a particular goal, or introversion-favoring, I’ll leave it to others to figure out and do the research.)

We -hate- being overstimulated by high energy feelings, especially when they tend to be the bad kind – aka being a fearful, anxious, nervous wreck, and are liable to either run away from the situation (avoiding/escape/flight) or take constructive steps to address said situation producing the bad feelings until the situation or feelings go away. (fight?)

The spot of good news, as mentioned previously, is that one has the high-energy motivation to take action and do either of those.

Other gamers, by contrast, probably loathe the low-energy bad feelings. They feel down, depressed, de-energized, bored. They’re liable to quit if they have *horror of horrors* “nothing to do.”

They’re looking for gameplay that excites them, gives them high-energy good feelings.

Hence the litany of constant demands for moar adrenaline-pumping “hardcore challenges” where they can earn deserved rewards, racking up one gain after another, addicted to the euphoria of achievement.

(I dunno. Sounds a bit like extraversion to me.)

It’s not easy as a game designer if you have to keep both camps happy, huh?

I don’t think they’re necessarily diametrically opposed, though. The perceived level of challenge is likely to prompt different energy levels of feelings.

The trick is, how do you get those looking for low-energy easy-fun to “be better” than those looking for high-energy hard-fun, so that they can look at the same mob and the former feels “okay, I can do this, easy peasy, no sweat, I’m having fun” and the latter feels “wow, this is so hard, this is so fun!”

The nature of practice being what it is, the adrenaline junkies are liable to be more practiced and experienced than the chill hipsters… so you tend to end up in an escalating situation of the former demanding more hits, while the latter stresses right out.

(Hrm, creative suggestions / solutions welcome.)

bloodstonefen1

Anyway, I find myself having a blast in the new Bloodstone Fen map.

That is, low-energy definitions of a “blast.”

bloodstonefen2

I trundle around, gliding and bouncing here and there and everywhere (bonus points for recognizing the phrase), collecting and harvesting all the things.

Every so often, an orange dynamic event comes up and I evaluate, “is this node more interesting or is that event more attractive?”

(Usually, the node wins, for the ten seconds it takes to harvest, and then I’m running over to spam 1 and dodge orange circles until the bouncy reward chests pop up.)

Rinse and repeat.

It’s a nice compact map, with high frequency of orange dynamic events, many doable solo or in small loosely assembling groups, and that seem to be less linearly linked to pushing some overall map wide meta.

bloodstonefen3

Every now and then, a big “world boss” type of event triggers, and then folks are drawn in to a centralized location, naturally congregating into a big zerg to defeat it.

Feels good. Feels like a bit more like Core Tyria (with less NPC settlements or friendly NPC interaction.)

I am greatly reminded of my relationship with City of Heroes’ Incarnate Trials and Dark Astoria zone.

That is, I was deeply uncomfortable with Incarnate Trials (to the point where I canceled my subscription, not being as motivated in CoH as in GW2 to play the raids – my ego is a lot more vested in accomplishments in GW2, whereas I was already getting bored with CoH and not at all tempted by gear-improvement rewards) and only re-subbed and tried out the Trials when Dark Astoria came into the picture.

Dark Astoria was the alternative, the philosophical recognition that people who enjoyed solo content should also have a means to earn Incarnate shards and achieve Incarnate levels of power, albeit at a slower rate than those who played the trials in a group setting.

Now, of course, if you -wanted- to speed up your rate of shard earning and could put up with a raid group, then yeah, go ahead and raid. It becomes an option, not a necessity.

We’re not quite 100% there yet with Bloodstone Fen.

The big thing GW2 is still missing is an alternative means for Legendary Armor.

Given that a normal set of armor apparently takes them 8 months to make (ie. Legendary Armor takes even longer) and that this batch of experimental Envoy armor seems to be inextricably linked to PvE raid progress (and a bit of PvP and WvW) and is still far far away in its arrival, it’s little wonder that they’re keeping very very quiet about any possibility of a second set of Legendary Armor, gained by some other means.

Maybe if we’re lucky, ArenaNet will come up with an elegant solution involving build templates and resolving the rune/sigil problem, and nip the issue of extra functionality with a set of purple-named armor and then the whole lack of an alternative will be moot.

(Raiders having prestige cosmetics is okay, bonus functionality is not okay. To me, anyway. Philosophically. Ideally. Speaking from a better part of me.

In practice, if we wanna be pragmatic about things, up yours. I’m on the side with the shinies. Don’t we love Chinese pragmatism? Embrace the Dark Side, baby.)

But I digress.

Bloodstone Fen is a step in the right direction, a step that was missing and ought to have been there as the raids came into the GW2 picture.

(Too bad the raid team works so damn fast, as compared to the rest. Or so damn slow, if both Bloodstone Fen and the raid wings were -meant- to arrive during HoT launch. If only Anet had slightly better scheduling/project management…

On the other hand, Bloodstone Fen looks like it was cobbled together using a ton of re-used assets and specifically addresses a number of reaction feedback from HoT, so it does also look like a mad iterative stopgap scramble to band-aid fix some issues. All those elder wood nodes and leather/cloth salvage reward drops are no accident, for example.)

It generally functions as the soloer’s alternative, just as Dark Astoria did.

There is stuff to do. Stuff to earn. Aerial combat skills being one of them, and apparently there are now means to get HoT stats that were previously only found in raids (big philosophical no-no, there) in Bloodstone Fen.

It helps the soloer understand the White Mantle storyline, that was previously only being told in raids.

It puts easy-ish world bosses that utilize raid-like mechanics -just less punishing ones- into the open world, so that players have the safety of a zerg (aka people around to rez them) and uses it to introduce/scaffold raid-necessary concepts – like the use of the new special action key, break bars, dodging orange circles, running to specific defined locations aka non-orange circles to achieve some objective, etc.

(It’s a start. Then certain buffed up fractals take over the teaching, by ramping up the necessity for increased group coordination and communication and personal movement/dodging ability. More on fractals in another post later.)

Bloodstone Fen gives me my “easy fun” back.

And I’m happy about that.

In a totally chill, relaxed kind of way.

PvP or PvE Have Become Meaningless Terms

I don’t think it’s really useful to just say PvP or PvE and assume everyone has a shared standard of values and definition of what it means anymore.

I mean, even the concept of a “raid” has begun to diverge.

A Wildstar raid has a different feel than a WoW raid. With absolutely zero experience in either, I feel fairly confident in saying that one is liable to have a lot more colored shapes on the ground and bullet hell than the other. An Archeage raid apparently involves trying to take down a world boss in the middle of a big ass PvP warzone, and then there’s GW2 not-quite-raids, which can apply to taking down world bosses or a zone challenge in an organized fashion with 100-150 members, or the WvW usage thereof, which is an organized PvP-esque group of 10-20 guild members, firing off skills in a coordinated fashion to defeat other parties.

What more a general term like PvP or PvE?

Instead, I’d like to suggest that we start breaking down these large concepts into various factors that we can profile different players by.

I’m still grappling with the precise factors, so there may be overlaps or repeat themselves somewhat, but I’d propose things like:

  • Loss aversion / Risk Tolerance
  • Need for Control (over self / surroundings or daily game experience / others)
  • Need for Variation
  • Need for Challenge
  • Luck vs Skill Preference
  • Time Investment / Effort vs Skill Preference
  • Contested / Non-contested Preference
  • Asymmetry Tolerance / Level or Uneven Playing Field?

Our very general concept of PvP tends to assume that PvPers have pretty high risk tolerance and aren’t very loss averse, treating character death or equipment loss as no big deal and part and parcel of the game. They’re probably fairly open to being acted on by others and responding to sudden changes in their surroundings or daily game experiences, while having a need to control or dominate others through defeating them and enjoying the sweet thrill of victory. They might have a high need for variety, given that PvP situations tend to result in unpredictable matchups and encounters. If you listen to what PvPers say about themselves, they love the challenge of an evenly-matched unpredictable human opponent wit-matching battle, and PvErs are ez-mode-seeking noobs.  And of course, they enjoy contested games.

You may note that I didn’t mention certain factors like  “luck vs skill” or “time/effort vs skill” yet. I’ll touch on that later.

Conversely, the generalized ideal of your typical PvE carebear is that they’re very loss averse, being allergic to dying even once in a fight. They may have a higher need for control over what happens to them in their daily game experience (which explains all the stereotypical begging for PvP flags or PvE servers so that they can choose when and where they encounter PvP.) If you listen to what PvErs say about themselves, they love a challenging raid encounter boss that they’ll have to keep trying and trying again to defeat, and PvPers are ganking griefing bullies who love to pick on those who can’t fight back.

Try as I might to shoehorn the other factors in, you might observe my attempted generalizations breaking down because really, there’s no stereotypical PvEr, just as there isn’t a stereotypical PvPer.

Some PvErs don’t really need a lot of variation in their daily MMO routine, or maybe it’s just for certain activities. I personally am quite content to farm repetitively for periods of time or mine a bunch of nodes in peace and quiet with no one interrupting me. I quite appreciate a predictable mob whose attack patterns I can learn and then slowly master and defeat. Then again, I get bored out of my mind if you ask me to repeat an easy world boss cycle or the same goddamn dungeon over and over, while other players – I note with absolute bemusement – are perfectly content to do just that!

Other PvErs are languishing away, hoping to eventually find devs with the tech and money to create a more unpredictable PvE world of mobs with intelligent AI and dynamic events producing a great variety of situations to encounter. But only computer-controlled, mind you, human players are too threatening.

Some PvPers are content to log in daily to their WvW matchup or their MOBAs at a set time every night and just play the same series of maps over and over, finding variation only in the players and playstyles they encounter, and the random micro-situations that result. Others really like the grand vision of a living breathing immersive world that’s set up like the Wild West, where you’re free to attack others whenever you want, where there aren’t many rules but the law of the jungle or the sheriff and his posse… while still others are sitting on the fence waiting for another set of laws somewhere in between the more lawless times of our history and our modern day world.

You’ll find that among both PvErs and PvPers, some people are a lot more willing to gamble big than others, or able to take the prospect of serious loss or backwards progression with equanimity. Their opposite number are the ones that argue against permadeath, against equipment loss in any form, against anything high-risk and high-consequence and would prefer everything of that ilk not present in the games they play.

Someone without a very high need for control over themselves and their surroundings may be a viable candidate for showing up in an open world PvP game, or a game with negative or backward progress consequences, regardless of whether they consider themselves a PvPer. Especially if you can tempt them in with things they -are- interested in, such as being able to socialize in a close community, or crafting/building/decorating a house, or trading and market PvP, or a simulation of a ‘realistic-in-their-eyes’ world and they’ll cheerfully put up with being your fat targets for combat-oriented PvPers in trade for those things.

On the other hand, those players who hate that sort of thing won’t be caught dead or alive in those kinds of games, or if they did get attracted, they’ll probably end up flaming out and rage-quitting one day when they can’t take it anymore.

On the PvE front, the control freaks are the ones that are most likely to be in regular groups of friends and not caught dead in random LFG finders, or off soloing by themselves, or possibly even leading – setting up situations under their personal control, in other words, and are liable to get twitchy or toxic when things don’t quite go their way or as they expect. Their opposite number are liable to be flitting from random situation to random situation with nary a care in the world.

In the same way, one might even suggest that we have low-challenge-seeking PvErs AND PvPers. One farms punching bag autoattack mobs, the other farms newbies or low levels, and both enjoy what they do.

The typical gamer, whom you’ll find almost always praises themselves as loving high challenge, will often speak in desultory fashion about this subset of players – but like always, it’s not so much what people say, as what they do.

I’ll  personally admit to liking a bit of easy fun now and then, even if I’ll rather do it to mobs than on another person. Then again, if it’s for an overall objective, I’m not above ruthlessly spawn-camping someone to break their morale so that they leave the battlefield and leave the other side outnumbered, or targeting the weakest link first and taking them right out, when I’ve chosen to play a PvP game. I like to play my games well and as efficiently as I can.

Given my observation of the general mass of players in any game, I suspect the ‘easy fun’ lovers to be a substantial subset, if not an outright majority. A dev would actually have metrics of this. And if they want to get paid, it may very well be in their interests to give these easy fun lovers some outlets. (Which leads to things like ‘welfare epics,’ ‘spam 1 to get loot farming’ and ‘gankers that sit around in low level zones cackling.’ Evils in the eyes of high-challenge-seeking players, but perhaps they’re necessary evils in a particular game. Or perhaps not – we’ll just have to see if anyone comes up with any cleverer design solutions.)

I also want to point out that it’s not a dichotomy. The theory of flow suggests that there are at least three states that ‘challenge’ can exist, rather than just high vs low, black vs white.

There’s low, middle or optimal, and high.

Too high challenge is frustrating. Overly frustrating people leads to learned helplessness and quitting.

The dream, of course, is the middle path of perfect, optimal challenge, leading to engagement and flow. Except to complicate things, different people have different frustration tolerances too, so what’s middle and optimal for one, may be too hard or too easy for another.

(Variable difficulty levels that adjust to the player is one suggested solution, but it’s always much easier typed or said than done, of course. Exactly how you vary this, and whether you let the player have any say or control over the matter, have been attempted by different games to differing effect.)

Also, some are more able to persevere after being knocked down, and others will throw in the towel earlier. This is less of a moral impeachment on their character, but more often due to a perceived locus of control. People who believe they can’t affect their situation and convert it from a negative to positive result are more likely to just give up.

Someone who is convinced that their twitch reflexes aren’t very good and not easily improved are more liable to just shrug and dismiss ever being any good at action-y games, whereas another might find they have sufficient time and motivation to keep practicing and plugging away until they improve.

Me, I really detest the concept of grinding for better stats to improve performance, so if you present such a game scenario to me, I’m more likely to tell you to soak the game in a barrel of water and that I’m going off to play another less annoying game that doesn’t force me into this treadmill. Another person who really digs the idea of putting in effort and seeing visible incremental progress come back – regardless of how static his or her personal game-playing skills remain –  will happily jump onto this crystal clear path of progression “to get stronger.”

As Talarian suggests, the higher-than-average skilled will always argue for a meritocracy where better skill leads to better rewards. But the presence of randomness and RNG luck rolls reward the weaker or below-average players from time to time and keep them playing the game – which is beneficial to both devs (who get paid) and for the game as a whole (higher population, more concurrent players, etc.)

Let’s not forget that if you chase away the worse players, the average will move, and there will be a new bar for “average” that’s set even higher, causing a new group of players to become “below average.”

Too much randomness, of course, and you don’t have very much of a game at all besides a game of pure chance, which will chase away the subset of players who want skill to have a tangible effect on their success at a game.

Then there’s my afterthought of asymmetry tolerance, which I -just- shoehorned in.

Perceptions of this also differ. Some people hate the very thought of GW2’s WvW because there are servers that are more populated than others, or number imbalances at different timezones, and refuse to play such an asymmetrical style of PvP. Give them totally even number tournament-style matchups, thank you. That’s a lot fairer and more competitive, in their viewpoint.

Me, I can deal with the above, because I find that they replicate a certain ‘reality’ of military history, that outnumbered fights happen and that there’s a beauty to tactics and strategy that can change localized number imbalances in your favor – such as feigning attacks in one place while committing to the real thing at another, or just spiking and focus-firing important or weaker targets.

But I do tend to cringe at stat and level imbalances piled on top of these, and find that a little -too- asymmetrical for myself to tolerate. Others are perfectly fine with it – after all, it’s ‘realistic’ too that some people might be naturally stronger than others, right?

The types of games that we play are very much dictated by our own preferences of factors like I’ve suggested above. It’s too much of a simplification to just lump things as PvE or PvP, and assume that never shall the twain meet.

Bragtoberfest: Tower Defence Quickies

The refreshing thing about Bragtoberfest has been the opportunity to play a broader spectrum of games than the habitual rut I’ve fallen into – where I cycle between dailies in GW2, dailies in Path of Exile and then spend the rest of the night in Minecraft with no real idea of what to do next but jetpack around like a bee and dip a toe into the next branch of things-to-do, only to discover that it’s a lot more complex than one bargained for.

The impromptu bonus has been a sudden resurgence of interest in Tower Defence games.

I LOVE Tower Defence.

I don’t know why, but the genre has a great appeal to me. There’s something very strategically attractive about planning out a beautiful sequence of traps or a gauntlet of a corridor of death, and then watching the unthinking hordes wander through and die to it.

I wouldn’t say I’m very good at it though.

I tend to the simplest, whatever works strategies, and I rarely come back and revisit the level for more efficiency and better and higher scores.

That is, until Orcs Must Die, where the difficulty kept ramping up to the point that I was left without recourse and had to go read strategy guides for a while and had my eyes opened to what other people were doing, helluva lot more efficiently and effectively.

That brought me past some harder levels a few years ago, but I kind of lost steam with it again.

The other day, since I spied Izlain trying his hand at it, and wanting to get past it so I can play the sequel with multiplayer too, I cranked it up to try and refresh my memory as to how it all worked.

I got a bit too intimidated to take on the next level right away, so I scrolled back and looked for an easier level where I’d done poorly before.

I found two:

orcs_chaos

Chaos Chamber was a bit tricky at first, but I rather surprised myself by seeing a potentially workable strategy and racing between portals to set it up. (Picked up a SG1 achievement for traveling through portals 20 times unknowingly too.)

I jumped from two skulls to five skulls earned. Oh yeah.

orcs_lunch

Then there was Lunch Break. My score was the shabbiest of all my Steam friends at first, and again I managed to suddenly see a pathing route that could effectively channel all the orcs into one chokepoint – which I then turned into a lethal doorway of death.

No clue about the missing skull though. Why wasn’t it good enough for that one last skull? Gaaah, apparently there’s room to get better still.

My time was limited, so I couldn’t play much more than that for the night, but it was good rewarding fun for that 30-60 minutes.

As for Defence Grid, Doone’s first challenge is Ancient Research.

So I cranked that game up, having left it fallow for a good two years or more.

My initial strategy went all guns, all upgraded everywhere.

Ended up the same 55k or so score that I’d been sitting on for ages. Not enough to beat Doone’s.

Time to think more efficiently and use less towers for more bang for buck.

defencegrid

Woot.

It’s probably still not the best that can be achieved, but I’m reluctant to refine it any further unless pushed by someone scoring higher. 😛