Made with: Flash
In collaboration with: Andy Noelker
Play online version here (on Andy’s site)
Made with Andy as part of our MA final project, which we called “the work of play”. This project was featured in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Digital Futures programme in July 2013. Andy and I were interested in the fact that many popular videogames have basic foundations which are iterated on repeatedly:
Though dressed up with different settings and special effects and given context with story, these are at heart the same actions repeated ad nauseum. It can be difficult to notice these formulae when playing, as it’s easy to get sucked along for the ride, but these are reliable, tested chunks of play that game- and level-designers can fall back on to flesh out their product. The ultimate goal is to get players to do the same tasks again and again and call it “fun”.
We had this lecture from Jonathan Blow in mind.
What we noticed about action RPGs like Diablo or Torchlight (and this is true of RPGs in general) is the way experience points ratchet up over time, allowing you to become more powerful and kill more monsters which are worth more experience points. This isn’t a problem on its own – that’s just how the genre creates a sense of progress and personal growth.
But when this system starts to define and shape the game in its totality, we take issue. I’m intrigued by the way these RPGs leave longer and longer gaps between each level. When you first play Diablo II, you go from level 1 to level 2 in less than an hour. By the time you’re level 40, the gulf between level 40 and level 41 takes the better part of a day to cross. And sometimes the benefits of that level-up are miniscule: you drop a few points into the same stats you always do, raising your health, magic or attack rating by a few percent, and you improve an already-established skill from level 6 to level 7 – or perhaps you hoard those points because you’re waiting for level 45 (a week’s intense play away) when you can spend them all on a newly-unlocked super-skill.
My problem is that these games are so completely dominated by their statistics that they become a numbers game. There are only a few viable builds in Diablo II, for instance, and you can look up recipes for them online. By that point, the destiny of your character’s development isn’t down to your personal preferences: it’s mapped out, reduced to a series of pre-determined button clicks.
Speaking personally, what I loved about Diablo II was the gorgeous, grotesque art, a really weird sense of place and the feeling that I was interacting with very old, very powerful forces. It’s unfortunate that, more often than not, this was boiled down to someone else doing maths for me.