Dumbing down isn't dumb

| Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Yesterday was not trolling! It was though-provoking. Totally different.

I want to introduce a concept: identical repetitive actions. Hopefully it will allow us to separate "good" and "bad" forms of "dumbing down" as well as giving me an opportunity to put words in "quotations" for no clear purpose.

What is different between SCVs that say "SCV good to go sir!" followed by sitting around and SCVs that say "SCV ready!" followed by them floating over to the pre-selected gathering point?

To start, what do we actually do differently when playing? Well obviously in the former we rush back to tell them where to go whereas in the latter we keep doing what we were doing. For either we will probably also check that we are or are not producing another SCV.

How about mentally, strategically, tactically? What intelligence is coming into play here? At first glance, none at all. You're going to tell the SCV to go zap a node and go back to telling your marines to stop rushing after single zerglings into hydralisk swarms. Did you catch it? It's right there. It's a distraction. It's a simple test of who can best bounce from a simple task to whatever you were trying to do away from your base.

Skill! That wonderful word. What is the skill? It's in the reflexes. Twitch click click click. Hot key here and there and bam right back and forth and no more than a hundreth of a second wasted.

It's a distraction and click-speed test. Sounds a bit like an FPS.

It's an identical repetitive action.

How often are you going to tell that new SCV to go somewhere new? A few times a game, when you need to build or expand, but most SCVs will be produced and promptly (or not) sent to the same mineral field as the one before. This isn't much fun. It's a significant dose of not-fun which gives a benefit to those with good reflexes.

Identical repetitive actions are a bad game mechanic, or a symptom of one. Note that identical really must mean identical. Shooting in a FPS doesn't qualify, since there are slight variations: recoil, new targets, looking around, reloading. These factors mean that you aren't going to win many FPS games by aiming straight ahead and mashing the fire button. But that's exactly how SCVs work 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time, the rally-gathering system still leaves intact the strategic requirement of where to gather.

Mechanics which reduce identical repetitive actions are good. Queues for buildings mean you no longer have to bounce back to your base for every single new units. In WoW, auto-crafting means you don't have to individually craft every single item when spam-leveling, but that may be a mechanic covering for a deeper problem than a bit of repetition. Auto-attack means you aren't sitting, waiting for the auto-attack timer to come up so you can attack again. Sounds a bit familiar, come to think of it.


scrusi said...

Very well put, sir. When I called for entertainment value per time as a measurement for the quality of decision making, I did not explicitly state that a decision needs to at least have some entertainment value for speeding up to increase the fun. Sending an SCV to mine is no fun at any speed.

You only touched on something though that I would like to expend upon: What about games that use twitchy non-decision elements to cover up for lacking game mechanics? The whole reactionary abilities / skill rotation / macro discussion comes to mind. Why do I have more fun playing my druid in Rift by hand than simply spamming a macro that does the same things I do?
A completely macroable combat system is clearly bad game design in the same way your SCVs are. Why am I still enjoying that system to some degree?

Tesh said...

Autoattack, like the SCV thing, also means you can concentrate on the actual Strategy and Tactics of play rather than the execution of play. (Just restating your theme there...)

There's a place for games based purely on mechanical execution (DDR, Simon Says), but I find the more overarching levels of thinking far more entertaining. I get a lot more satisfaction out of a plan well laid or reacting to tactical situations than I do when I get my timing in a WoW DPS rotation just right... again and again and again and again...

So scrusi, maybe you're finding the fun in the execution more than the tactics/strategy layers? I should stress that there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, it's just a playstyle thing. I'm only bothered when I'm required to do stay on one layer when I'd rather be on the other.

Klepsacovic said...

@scrusi: I'd guess that the twitchy spam comes closer to actually playing than macro spam. If you're not in a mindless grind situation, more mental activity, even if it is merely "press button now" is often a good thing.

@Tesh: I hate Simon Says. I'm just not very good at remembering meaningless gestures with no context or goal where minor variations in phrasing (I didn't say "simon says!") cause total loss. I'm sorry, but such rigid word structures belong in the old old text-based adventure games, DOS, and nowhere else.

scrusi said...

Tesh, I wouldn't go that far but the general direction is probably right. I'm enjoying the execution more than the the tactics/strategy layers in this one special case because the latter is virtually non-existent.

Back in Vanilla WoW I enjoyed my spammable macro on my PvP Warrior because it allowed me to focus more on positioning, map awareness, those kinds of things.

Tesh said...

"in this one special case because the latter is virtually non-existent"


Indeed. If there's not much meat to the tactical, there's not much point spending effort focusing on it.

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