Thursday, May 29, 2014

Start Game. Nope. Leave. Start Game. Nope Again. Leave. Start Game…

The Newbie Blogger Initiative group recently started a Terraria server, which I have been playing the absolutely living daylights out of. More than anybody else really. But it’s still been an absolute blast.

The answer to the question is always, "Yes!"

Terraria, like most games with procedurally generated maps, has a number of resources which are quite limited in nature. It also has a large number of treasures which are completely random. An example would be the Ice Machine—used to create ice furniture—which not all maps have one, so besides actually finding chests that have loot, you also have to hope that the loot you get is the stuff you want. On top of that, some things, like Sunplate Blocks, are extremely limited in amounts in a given world.

Diablo III is another game with procedurally generated maps and loot. An example of this is trying to farm for the Gibbering Gemstone—a piece of loot required to unlock Whimseyshire. I’ve been farming on and off for this item since March when 2.0 dropped, and haven’t had any luck so far. You need to farm a beast known as Chiltara, who sometimes spawns in the Caverns of Frost, which sometimes spawns instead of the Icefall Caverns not far from the Bridge of Korsekk way point, but the location in the field of the cavern is also random.

So not only do I have to find the cavern, I have to hope it’s the right one, and then it’s no guarantee the mob I want to kill will spawn, and then it’s still like a 3% drop rate from there. I think I’ve put in about 8 – 10 hours total farming this thing, culminating in about 30 Chiltara kills, and precisely 0 Gibbering Gemstones.

All of this leads to some very interesting behavior as far as gaming is concerned. The most efficient way to farm for this item in Diablo III is to start a new game, check to see if the bounty is for Caverns of Frost on the map, and if not, quit and repeat. Often you’ll go through about 5 – 8 instances of the game before you get one with the right bounty, and away you go hoping Chiltara will spawn.

For Terraria, if you’re just farming a specific resource it’s not too bad; start a new world, and go find it. If you’re searching for a specific treasure, you need to know what biome it usually spawns, create the world and go find the biome, and search it top to bottom. Or use a map-viewer utility to pin-point it and find that location in-game, which is definitely cheating (though on the degrees of cheating, it’s less than just actively modifying your inventory).

But as a designer, is this behavior you should encourage, discourage, or do something else entirely? Or even just ignore it. Players love to be efficient—and I’m completely guilty of this myself—rather than just play around. A lot of gamers are very goal-oriented, even if those goals are self-created. So when that drive for efficiency creates a strange way of playing the game “optimally”, should it be changed?

My personal goal is to finish my treehouse, which requires farming more worlds for a lot more Sunplate Stone.

I’m not asking for things to be handed to me on a silver platter, but when you look at non-procedurally generated content, usually rare items are gated by being well-hidden (easily defeated by a FAQ online), or by being behind some crazy skill gate, like a secret boss or dungeon. In MMOs and procedurally generated content, usually it just becomes a matter of time spent and a little luck.

Personally I prefer a skill gate, because it gives me another goal, and a way to test myself, which I find amusing. But others prefer the time gate, because they love grinding (seriously! They do!), or like the idea that given enough time, they can do everything the game has to offer. This method of farming, quitting and recreating an instance of the game over and over and over again, is something that isn’t much fun for Diablo III, at least, and I wonder if there’s another mechanic that could be used instead?
#GameDesign, #DiabloIII, #Terraria


  1. I want procedurally generated gameplay. Add ranges and probabilities to everything. Set up mobs to have a rotating set of additional abilities as well as modifiers similar to loot that change their stats/behavior. Don't make it easier to understand if a particular instance has that unique thing you are looking for. Not all quests should be available, not all quests should be the same. Mats should very slightly for craftables. What you get shouldn't be guaranteed.

    In other words, fight efficiency with a chaotic world.

    I've found that games are their most fun when I am simultaneously hooked but also really new to the experience. I always err toward the side of efficiency myself, so over time I learn and master everything, and the game either loses its fun or takes on a different, though lesser kind of fun.

  2. I prefer procedurally generated content, as it's replay value is higher than static content. Those "luck grinds" suck though, and I haven't done much farming the way you've described it (the way it works). This is why I love rogue-likes, because they have the random generation, but there typically is a "skill-gate" as well. In games like Sword of the Stars: The Pit, there is a bit of grind with the engineer (and others with the appropriate skills) class to find recipes that allow you to make food and gear, but it's not absolutely necessary to find them all.

    My Dad is an old school EQ player, and loves the grindy mechanics in MMOs. I grew tired of the exp grind in EQ, and ended up enjoying themeparks more. Now I've grown tired with most themepark mechanics, but I still don't want a grindfest MMO experience.

  3. "This method of farming, quitting and recreating an instance of the game over and over and over again, is something that isn’t much fun for Diablo III, at least, and I wonder if there’s another mechanic that could be used instead?"

    It's not even just Diablo -- think about mounts in WoW like the ones in Karazhan and Sethekk Halls.

    Also think about things like legendaries in WoW -- Blizzard's been desperately trying a wide variety of methods. They wanted to keep legendaries rare but also didn't like the whole "one in a million with nothing due to ability" set-up. At this point I think they've just given up on accomplishing that.

    The problem with skill is that nearly all high end raiders would get it practically instantly (and, of course, lower end raiders would never get it but you might not consider that a problem). And if everyone the top 1000 guilds has a legendary, it's not exactly a rare bonus and is instead something that has to be balanced around.

    What Blizzard just went with eventually, and what could be applied here, is simply a grind of collecting things over time -- so that eventually you'd get it, guaranteed, if you tried long enough. Seems it would be better than the current state for Diablo.

    Another semi-solution would be to "lock" a given map in place until it's cleared -- meaning you can't simply quit and try again, you have to clear the place to get a new map. It doesn't solve the root issue of needing to luck out on getting the dungeon but it does reduce the whole Start, Leave, Start, Leave cycle.

  4. As Balkoth says, leaving it as a more skill based unlock means a lot of people won't be able to achieve it and then for grind based it means those with time won't either. It's definitely a hard balancing act to achieve.

    Personally I think both these methods should be for cosmetics and customisation. Creating more options on how you play at cap or speciality items to customise look. Maybe even have certain crafting components dropped within each that are tradeable so people that enjoy these activities can make money form them and those that are in the middle or only like one can still get the items they are after

    as for Terraria It's easy enough to get around the limitations which I think is a great thing... if the worlds were bigger it might not create the same problems, you don't hear much of the same issues from mine craft for instance. And i've grinded a lot in here previously for some of the rarer pets... I kind of like it lol