Interaction with the code

| Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The games which I played the longest and had the most fun in were also the ones which I could change.  This ranged from elaborate macros in WoW to entire new story lines and ships in Escape Velocity (Mac space combat/trading series from the late 90s).  I don't think this is coincidence.

At first the causality might seem to go from time to code, that more time with a game meant more time to learn it and change it.  Certainly it is true that having more time gives you more time.  I might be going out on a limb with that one.

However, I don't think I'd have spent as much time with these games if I couldn't change them.  Particularly in my days before WoW and Steam, patches weren't very easy to get, let alone know they existed.  If I wanted new content I had to add it myself or look for mods.  In either case, it helped if the game was designed to allow for easy modification.  WoW eagerly accepts add-ons (for better or worse) and has an in-game macro-writing ability.  Escape Velocity was designed early on to readily accept add-ons.  The civilization series didn't have quite the same ease of modification, but with some poking about I could tweak a few things on my own.

The benefits of this come in two categories.  First, it allows for bug-fixing, including those especially annoying things which are perceived as bugs but really weren't.  There is no "working as intended" conflict when you can change things.  One of my biggest annoyances with Civ V  vs. IV was that V didn't have the WorldBuilder, which is an in-game tool to change the map, diplomacy, units, cities, and so on.  With it I could fix some of the annoyances of the AI or the RNG (SPEARMAN DOES NOT BEAT TANK!).  It's a minor thing, but when I'd rush promoting and accidentally give anti-archer promotion to a tank I loved that I could switch to the WorldBuilder and alter the promotions.  That's better than playing with a gimped unit because of a misclick (particularly annoying in a turn-based game) or having to reload from the start of the turn (biggest world possible and it's the very last unit I moved).

Second, it lets the player customize the experience to properly suit them.  In WoW this meant macros that allowed me to survive with a mere two mouse buttons and a scroll wheel.  In Escape Velocity this meant an outpouring of creativity as I designed progressively stranger devices, such as my own version of Project Orion (using atomic bombs to launch rockets: tons of thrust, tons of fallout).

Third (yes I did say two), this gives the player ownership and a deeper connection to the game.  It isn't just something made by someone else and copied a million times.  It's a game that you changed.  It's customized.  Some of your beliefs about game design, some of what you think is fun and should be in games, is in it now.  That's pretty neat.


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