View From the Road: An Axe to Grind, Part 1

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View From the Road: An Axe to Grind, Part 1

What's the difference between killing a bunch of enemies in TF2 and killing a bunch of enemies in Final Fantasy XI?

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My generally accepted definition of "grind" is doing something tedious over and over again.

It's what puts me off MMOs the most... those hours where you know you're doing arbitrary quests and killings low level enimies so you can kill slightly less-low level enemies.

APB is looking pretty good... too bad my PC doesn't get used for gaming enough to warrant me paying for subscription.

And how many thousands I must have killed in Halo so far...

Aha!

I see a flaw in your argument, MISTER FUNK.

There are only NINE classes in TF2! Therefore, you only kill NINE people, not TEN!

*whisks away like the proverbial Batman*

If I remember correctly, it was actually Everquest 2 that first made the transition from mob-grinding based leveling to quest based leveling. WoW didn't introduce the idea. WoW just became more popular.

In all honesty, WoW was practically the first MMORPG who didn't allowed me to grind because all these Quests were too damn addicting. They even rewarded you for it and I kept pursuiting them with the occassional short-burst 'grinding' sessions, which I don't mind.

Bioware had Quests in the dozens for the Horde faction at least and I enjoyed them all. In other genres it is pretty much not a problem for me.

This is basically why WoW became insanely popular. It masters the art of making a grind not feel like a grind.

FarmVille's success can be attributed to the same clever switcharound. All you do is grow crops and raise animals on a farm by clicking the same things over and over again, but the game disguises this by giving you rewards every few clicks. It's a cheap design trick that appears to work on the masses.

EDIT:

dradiscontact:
If I remember correctly, it was actually Everquest 2 that first made the transition from mob-grinding based leveling to quest based leveling. WoW didn't introduce the idea. WoW just became more popular.

Everquest II only came out 3 weeks before WoW, so we can basically say that they introduced the mechanic at about the same time. And, from someone who's played both, it's apparent that WoW did it better; whereas EQ2 rarely ever strayed from the "Kill X enemies" formula, WoW at least has you going for other objectives from time to time.

Plus, EQII still required a lot more effort than WoW to be an active player. WoW's popularity mainly stems from the fact that it combined the elimination of the perceived grind with accessibility and the ability to either play the game casually or in a hardcore fashion.

dradiscontact:
If I remember correctly, it was actually Everquest 2 that first made the transition from mob-grinding based leveling to quest based leveling. WoW didn't introduce the idea. WoW just became more popular.

EQ2 had it, yes, but WoW popularized the model because of its, well, popularity.

I think Pokemon is grind-tacular, but I still love it to bits. I think that with a MMOG you need to play every single day without fail, otherwise the careful web of contacts you've built up just fall apart. Your friends will get better at a much faster rate than you will. With Pokemon it's just pick-up-and-play when and where you want. You can give it a week, a month, the in-game trainers won't care. They'll just stand there waiting for you with the same leveled Pokemon. This is why I'm against an online Pokemon- it works so much better as a single-player game that allows mindless grinding fun without forcing any obligations on you.
You can choose to go down the competitive battling route and get those obligations, but that's your decision. It's not an integral part of gameplay.

Hang on a minute. Yes, you're killing enemies over and over again. Don't you do that in every game where combat is a major element of the experience?...

...The perceived difference between killing thousands of enemies in an MMOG and killing tons of enemies in Uncharted 2, of course, is that Nate Drake is murdering with a purpose in order to advance the story.

You, esteemed sir, are confusing "repetition" with "tedium." The two are not mutually inclusive. In a good combat game, your goal is not to kill one hundred enemies, but to kill one hundred enemies in one hundred different situations, with different surroundings, different available equipment, and different goals in each (or most) cases.
Mortal Kombat, for example, gives little kontext (see what I did there?) to your actions. But still, defeating Blaze three times (or, hell, a few dozen times) in a row would still be more fun than collecting an equivalent number of Swamp Rat Pituitary Glands - provided, of course, that you stripped the latter situation of its artificial reward. (In the same way, one mission from Generic First-Person Shooter #36, repeated over and over, would get boring fast no matter how many times you changed the name of the minor boss and gave you a different reason to flip the breaker switch.)

See, that's the problem with grinding. It makes repetitive actions seem meaningful through an arbitrary framing device. It rewards not skill, but persistence.

I definitely agree with GamesB2 in that tedium is a larger factor than context in the enjoyability of grinding. To expand a bit: the most tedious tasks in video games are the ones that require little thought. When it comes to killing tons of enemies, the amount of thought required to do so is directly proportional to the number of enemies fought at once, the number of different kinds of enemies fought overall, the intelligence of the enemies, the amount of moves at your enemies' disposal, and the amount of moves at YOUR disposal. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think in most RPGs in general, MMO or otherwise, all of these factors except the last are low (with the exception of boss battles and other unusual situations). The art of good enemy design, IMO, is balancing these factors so as to always challenge the player without overwhelming them. Grinding that isn't a challenge feels most like grinding. Thus, in my mind, it takes much more thought (and therefore enjoyment) to defeat tons of REDs or BLUs in TF2 than, say, a forest full of Metapods.

The Big Eye:

Hang on a minute. Yes, you're killing enemies over and over again. Don't you do that in every game where combat is a major element of the experience?...

...The perceived difference between killing thousands of enemies in an MMOG and killing tons of enemies in Uncharted 2, of course, is that Nate Drake is murdering with a purpose in order to advance the story.

You, esteemed sir, are confusing "repetition" with "tedium." The two are not mutually inclusive. In a good combat game, your goal is not to kill one hundred enemies, but to kill one hundred enemies in one hundred different situations, with different surroundings, different available equipment, and different goals in each (or most) cases.
Mortal Kombat, for example, gives little kontext (see what I did there?) to your actions. But still, defeating Blaze three times (or, hell, a few dozen times) in a row would still be more fun than collecting an equivalent number of Swamp Rat Pituitary Glands - provided, of course, that you stripped the latter situation of its artificial reward. (In the same way, one mission from Generic First-Person Shooter #36, repeated over and over, would get boring fast no matter how many times you changed the name of the minor boss and gave you a different reason to flip the breaker switch.)

See, that's the problem with grinding. It makes repetitive actions seem meaningful through an arbitrary framing device. It rewards not skill, but persistence.

I agree. Context being the only difference would imply we only put up with killing loads of dudes because we want to see the story, and that grinding is just showing it on it's own where it then becomes tedious.
No.
It's as you said, it's the fact that you just have to be persistent, and mash one button over and over. Team fortress was easy to apply the logic of being objective based, but look at quake, counter strike and call of duty. Quake has no objectives or very simple ones. At any rate deathmatch was extremely popular. People wanted to murder dudes over and over for the sake of it, with no reward outside of that. Because in that game it took skill to murder dudes, and as long as your skill is being tested, people will enjoy it. For the latter two, those are objecive based games but everyone just goes ahead and plays it as death match anyway, further negating the point.

I have personally never seen a difference between grinding and playing a game with masses of enemies trying to kill you, that may be because I approach them with the objective of bettering myself, which I suppose you could call "levelling up your mind", if you felt like being a bit silly.
But, I'm probably a bit strange, so, don't mind this paragraph.

With some FPS games approaching the online experience with level-ups, I think even the industry is beginning to think it's all a grind.

To me, grinding means 'doing the same task that has little to no challenge to it repeatedly.' This means that, in my definition, you can grind in almost any game. My main problem with grinding is facing off against opponents that I know are weak just for the EXP. Pokemon is likely the worst offender that I've played, but I've talked with some people who've gotten to the 4th level limit break on FF7 before the end of the first disk, or sit in the same spot in FF13 until they're character reaches max level. That really just means dull, tedious work that poses no challenge after a short time, and that's what I consider 'grinding' in video games.

John Funk:

What's the difference between killing a bunch of enemies in TF2 and killing a bunch of enemies in Final Fantasy XI?

Time, and fun.

I can kill 7 people in the time it takes me to suffer through one in any of the FF series.
I also know that each person I kill is relevant to my goals, rather than just upping the crawling experience bar of Final Fantasy XI.

Each kill MEANS something, and that's what stops it being a grind.

I only dislike 'grinding' of playing over and over if I get bored of it. I'm fairly resistant to getting bored easily, though slapping on some random music helps if the in-game music isn't enough to my liking to make up the difference.

You also classify grinding as something which requires very little effort. If you can kill things over and over without paying much attention, it can get dull quickly.
Now, if you having to pay attention to every last detail so it doesn't go horribly wrong and end up with your death, that automatically makes it lot less boring. As it's actually engaging your brain fully.
Also, simply being in a group all 'grinding' together can alleviate boredom, simply as pretty much everything is more enjoyable with other people than doing it alone. At the very least you have people to talk to.

I've been playing Dofus recently, which can be a bit 'grindy' at times, though I can usually queue up some attacks on my turn, and wait for everything to take it's turn while I chat to my guildmates or whatever. I've even surfed the web in between turns on occasion, as the game never goes full-full-screen, leaving the usual windows borders and buttons at the top and the taskbar is still available. It also flashes on the taskbar when it's your turn, which is ridiculously useful feature when you have 7 other people (which usually turns out to be 3 guys with alts or something[1]) in your party all taking turns.

I play pokemon a lot. Though a lot of level grinding has a habit of being required for the Elite Four (usually the only definite point in all of the games where you have to do this), if you want to raise lots of different pokemon, or if you're trying to tackle the post-Elite Four extras that have become more prevalent in recent games. Regardless, I rarely ever get bored of it. In fact, you can make the whole process go faster by disabling the animations, which helps speed through it if you're fighting the same guys over and over for their delicious xp.

[1] Though the game also names each Dofus window you open with the character you're playing as, so it's easy to play multiple characters at once without fumbling around for the right window.

You know what the most obnoxious quests in MMO's are? Go fetch me 10 wolf hearts.

Seems straightforward enough. Kill ten wolves, loot their corpses, collect reward. Except apparently some wolves do not have hearts.

I'm sorry MMO you're right. A mammal having a heart is a recessive trait. How could I be so stupid?

The Big Eye:

You, esteemed sir, are confusing "repetition" with "tedium." The two are not mutually inclusive. In a good combat game, your goal is not to kill one hundred enemies, but to kill one hundred enemies in one hundred different situations, with different surroundings, different available equipment, and different goals in each (or most) cases.
Mortal Kombat, for example, gives little kontext (see what I did there?) to your actions. But still, defeating Blaze three times (or, hell, a few dozen times) in a row would still be more fun than collecting an equivalent number of Swamp Rat Pituitary Glands - provided, of course, that you stripped the latter situation of its artificial reward. (In the same way, one mission from Generic First-Person Shooter #36, repeated over and over, would get boring fast no matter how many times you changed the name of the minor boss and gave you a different reason to flip the breaker switch.)

See, that's the problem with grinding. It makes repetitive actions seem meaningful through an arbitrary framing device. It rewards not skill, but persistence.

But barring perfect conditions you'll fight the same enemies under different circumstances. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to be quick on my feet in WoW because an enemy respawned on top of one I just killed or I had to manage multiple enemies at once because I had little space to work with. In such a massive game with so many goals and so many people there's no way you'll be grinding under the same conditions, ideal or not, 100% of the time. The context is always changing.

John Funk:
Come back next week when we look at why the grind isn't necessarily something to be demonized.

*Slams breaks*

*Slinks rapidly*

Waitwhatwhonow?

John Funk:
John Funk always winds up underleveled in Pokémon every single play-through.

You avoid battles too, huh?

I'm sorry, you gave me such an amasing image of a nerdy Batman in that first paragraph that I wasn't able to pay attention to the reast of the article that much. I think I may come back and read it again when the Batman has left my mind.

Nimbus:

John Funk:
John Funk always winds up underleveled in Pokémon every single play-through.

You avoid battles too, huh?

I used to avoid battles as well, until I got Sapphire and then I found myself searching for battles and being upset that their weren't enough to level all of my guys to 100 before the 1st gym (I am being hyperbolic of course)!

OT: I think that every video game has a bit of grind in them, but MMO's just are more straight-forward with it. I find grinding in WoW easy if I put the TV on in the background.

WOW is a terrible example. Sure it doesn't have hunting based grind, but questing based grinding is no different. The object still remains to increase that blue bar, quests are just an end to a means. Being that the majority of quests say 900/1000 are not interesting, what reason Trog the orc why he needs 10 wolf fangs is moot; I just don't care, all I know is I've been given a monotonous task (which is really what most of these quests are, just tasks) that slightly raises the blue bar when complete.

The_root_of_all_evil:

Each kill MEANS something, and that's what stops it being a grind.

Especially when its that medic who'd just about to deploy an ubercharge.

But yeah, I call a grind a grind when I'm not having fun. I'd say the definition is different for everyone.

I consider something a grind when it becomes mindless repetition, and thinking about what your doing just isn't necessary anymore. In MW2 I have to work for every kill, and I feel like I earned that little "+50 XP" that pops up. That, and the gameplay itself is it's own reward. I'm not playing so I can get to the next level, I'm playing because I want to punish anyone foolish enough to be on the enemy team, and the leveling up is just something that occurs as a result of this.

Whereas take Final Fantasy, and the grinding's only purpose is to slowly make some little bar fill up so you can suck less against the next boss. I HATE this type of grinding with a fiery passion, and it's the reason why I really avoid MMORPGs and JRPGs that use it so goddam much.

It's also why I liked Oblivion more than Morrowind
*runs away*

I think the core difference is in how much fun your having doing said task. If you or I were having fun killing X number of enemies on WoW, it isn't really a grind for us, because we enjoy doing it. Whereas to someone who might easily get bored of it, to them it would be a grind.

Being none-too-much of an MMORPG fan, I would define grind as any game that requires me to go through motions repetitively to make an advance WHILE ALSO simply ordering my character around to do the job for me, relying on my character's stats rather than my own skill as a gamer.

Again, John, you missed the real reason of a grind within a game: Padding. The developers cannot manage to make the game more challenging by natural scaling difficulty as seen in action games and resort to having the player waste time. As seen in the Disgaea games, which are the epitome of grinding, no matter how powerful the opponent may be enough grinding will make the game a breeze.

This is wrong. As seen in plenty of older RPGs a player may just as well progress through the game casually and still have no need to wander in an area for an indeterminate amount of time just to get strong enough to go through the next hurdle. Also, for most MMORPGs what is the reward for grinding enough to level? Access more enemies to grind on as the previous lot was slowing the rate down? How can you even call that gameplay?

World of Warcraft went in the right direction by making character growth seamless through quests, whereas others such as Guild Wars gave the player a particularly low maximum level and focuses on proper skill management for the right occasions.

Every second spent grinding is a second wasted from exploring new territory, finding new puzzles and interacting with new characters.

adderseal:
I think Pokemon is grind-tacular, but I still love it to bits. I think that with a MMOG you need to play every single day without fail, otherwise the careful web of contacts you've built up just fall apart. Your friends will get better at a much faster rate than you will. With Pokemon it's just pick-up-and-play when and where you want. You can give it a week, a month, the in-game trainers won't care. They'll just stand there waiting for you with the same leveled Pokemon. This is why I'm against an online Pokemon- it works so much better as a single-player game that allows mindless grinding fun without forcing any obligations on you.
You can choose to go down the competitive battling route and get those obligations, but that's your decision. It's not an integral part of gameplay.

Actually, I personally am not in the least bit against a multiplayer Pokemon, and while I'm pretty sure it's not going to happen, here's why I think it could be great.

The biggest thing in pokemon (in my opinion) is the very strong limiting factor of four moves per pokemon. Your total adds up to 24 moves per team, but factoring in the danger of switching out a pokemon makes your use of said moves required to be much more strategic. When do you want to send out those team buffs, and how late are you willing to heal yourself before you think you will lose the upper hand? Not to mention moves are limited as well. You often have to think about these things, and it takes strongly away from the "attackattackattack" mentality of basically every other leveling game.

Since Pokemon is, in a way, already an MMO with strictly PVP interactions, there is not much farther it needs to be taken to include single player and team leveling. The grouping would be tricky because the nature of the game (especially the turn-base-d-ness) makes five people fighting at the same time likely to waste a lot of time. Perhaps they would have groups that skip all the random encounters and go straight to a challenging boss fight. If you put those bosses on the scale of a WoW boss, you've got a challenging fight that is likely to drain your resources, and more likely than not you'll need to put together a complex group of characters to make the fight possible. The strategic possibilities are vast, and I certainly think it could provide a unique way of looking at things.

The best part for me, though, is the idea that gear is never an issue in a game like pokemon. The only thing to consider is smart move sets and versatile teams. This gives a huge chance of everyone getting to experience the full content of the game. Even more so, I think it could be neat to have a TM Drop from bosses where a couple TM's drop, much like WoW gear (or even better, Guild Wars). Perhaps certain TM's are only available from a challenging fight that you can do once a day (or once a week for some fights).

There are other things it has going for it already: An already existing level cap means we've set our limit, and I doubt many people would have a problem with lowering that limit for an online game if only so it is quicker to get to what would be the end-game content. Items, in my opinion, are quite balanced already, and the economy of items is likely to be strong. Not to mention the trading of pokemon that would occur.

OK, I've gotta back off this for a bit, I thought way too much about something that is not going to happen. Nevertheless, I think it could be fantastic (and it already has the playerbase! Do it, Nintendo and Game Freak! You know it's a winner!)

snowman6251:
You know what the most obnoxious quests in MMO's are? Go fetch me 10 wolf hearts.

Seems straightforward enough. Kill ten wolves, loot their corpses, collect reward. Except apparently some wolves do not have hearts.

I'm sorry MMO you're right. A mammal having a heart is a recessive trait. How could I be so stupid?

I agree with you, but it can also be argued that you damaged the heart beyond salvage when you killed it.

Ravinak:

snowman6251:
You know what the most obnoxious quests in MMO's are? Go fetch me 10 wolf hearts.

Seems straightforward enough. Kill ten wolves, loot their corpses, collect reward. Except apparently some wolves do not have hearts.

I'm sorry MMO you're right. A mammal having a heart is a recessive trait. How could I be so stupid?

I agree with you, but it can also be argued that you damaged the heart beyond salvage when you killed it.

That was always the excuse I gave when my wolf failed to produce a heart but seriously, come on. Most of the time you're collecting wolf hearts to grind them up into potions and crap like that anyway so I really just think its dumb.

And its not like if you kill it one way you damage the heart and kill him another way and its fine. Its totally random. I played a rogue when I played WoW and I never really strayed from the ambush, mutilate, eviscerate cycle when leveling so there's no excuse like "You did it wrong". Its just random and designed to make you have to kill move wolves.

Irridium:

The_root_of_all_evil:

Each kill MEANS something, and that's what stops it being a grind.

Especially when its that medic who'd just about to deploy an ubercharge.

But yeah, I call a grind a grind when I'm not having fun. I'd say the definition is different for everyone.

Ugh. God damn snipers and spies ruining all my hard work.

I consider grind to be the continuous repetition of the same task for an extended amount of time within the same context.

The negative aspects repetition in the same context is already established, but doing so continuously is what I think defines grinding. What I mean by continuously is without any intervals where you spend time doing any other task.

If a game charged you with killing twenty five thousand wolves before you could continue and do [b]anything[\b] else, you'd get tired very quickly. You'd go kill the first few wolves, then the next few, then the next few, and very quickly you'll start experiencing system fatigue. You're operating in the same context, within the same boundaries, for the same purpose, repeating the same set of actions.

Now if the game did something a little different, and said you can go ahead and do any number of tasks (progress through the story, do some quests, craft some items, gather some materials, hunt for treasure), but eventually: you're going to have to kill twenty five thousand wolves. The task remains the same, but doing all those other things in the meantime keeps things interesting and refreshing. A good game would let you kill those twenty five thousand wolves while you're doing all those other tasks.

The "problem" I see with MMOs is that they are, essentially, of infinite length, but barring updates and social aspects (like PvP) the overall number of activities you can be doing is finite. For you to keep playing, the game either needs to provide further updates and upgrades that let you partake in new activities, or to design its existing activities to last for as long as possible, even forever. The latter results in the inevitable grind. The former is what some developers (Blizzard/WoW) are doing, updating the game with expansion packs to add more content.

I'm not a big fan of MMOs in their current form, but I am interested in seeing how developers take that technology forward, rather than treat it as an ill-defined and ill-designed genre.

Sooo...by your hypothesis, context changes the repetition on an action into something meaningful?
but how? you don't say, you just claim it happens through "quests" and such.
Player A pushes button 80 times to get a coin. meaningless.
Player B pushes button 80 times to get a coin to buy another button to push. Also meaningless.
Player C pushes button 80 times to get a coin to buy another button to push to SAVE THE WORLD.
Still meaningless.
The grind is an element of game design, one that is much reviled for a reason.
So whats the difference between killing a bunch of enemies in one game as compared to another?
Nothing, but if you love a game, its all you have.

oranger:
Sooo...by your hypothesis, context changes the repetition on an action into something meaningful?
but how? you don't say, you just claim it happens through "quests" and such.
Player A pushes button 80 times to get a coin. meaningless.
Player B pushes button 80 times to get a coin to buy another button to push. Also meaningless.
Player C pushes button 80 times to get a coin to buy another button to push to SAVE THE WORLD.
Still meaningless.
The grind is an element of game design, one that is much reviled for a reason.
So whats the difference between killing a bunch of enemies in one game as compared to another?
Nothing, but if you love a game, its all you have.

The context is in the medium of games. I have yet to play a game that had any meaning whatsoever (except Hello Kitty Island Adventures, which helped me stop World War III, but that's a story for another time), and all that's left is enjoying the experience. Every action in gaming since about 1979 has one of two outcomes (using your example);

Player A pushes a button 80 times to get a coin. Meaningless.
Player B pushes a button 80 times to get a coin and has fun while he's doing it. Meaningful.

Grind (GRIYND) v. : repeating the same action in the absense of new content. See also: farming.

Repetitive killing in Uncharted 2 is not grinding if the levels pass quickly enough.

Mining, fishing, or picking flowers to make a potion, over and over is grinding, even though there no combat.

Saying that grinding must involve the accomplishment of something is too diffuse because everything done in a videogame arrives at some goal, varied though it may be.

Queing up for battlegrounds 20 times to get some item may be considered grinding, though the varied nature of PvP I think can be argued offers its own new content each time. Rarely do two Warsong gulches play out the same way in a generally even match.

It is endemic to MMOs because by their nature, first they have to be massive, and second they have to keep the subscriptions up, which means wasting your time a lot. MMOs can at least in theory get around it, if they choose, if they offer bucketloads of new content from pursuing MMO goals like leveling, making money, trades and professions, and the like. But it is easier to just make the player do the same thing 50 bajillion times instead. So yeah, my opinion is any and all grinding reflects a failure of gameplay. I look forward to your next article.

This would be why I love to level characters on WoW but can't stand to hover around at 80.

1-80 is working through zones, completing story arcs with general advancement. At 80 it's just grind grind grind for everything, boss drops, emblems, gold, whatever. People who skip the quest text and just look at it as 'stuff to do to fill the bar' are missing out, tbh.

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