53: Kill Your Darlings

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This may be a bit repetitive at this point, but there's a game called Operation Flashpoint that does a good job of representing damage without a health bar. You get shot in the leg or something, you lose the ability to run (IIRC). You get shot in the leg again, you fall down. You try to get up, and your character screams in agony and falls down again (at this point you need to reload, or call a medic, or complete the mission by driving a vehicle if that's possible). If you get shot in general, your aim gets very, very shaky. Your view even gets a red tint (again IIRC). There's even a mod for Flashpoint ("WGL" I think) that adds more to the damage model -- Get shot critically and you hear your heart beating loudly as you leave a trail of blood. Eventually you collapse and die if you cannot get treated medically.

In general: I agree with a lot of points, but if you look at something like a JRPG, realism isn't their focus to begin with. Take away the numbers and replace it with visual cues... you're still suddenly zooming into a battle stage and using your ultimate attack on some group of squirrels. Even moreso for a "tactics" game like FFT. Realism is just a style, not the One Path to immersion nor the ultimate objective of every game. I think the game has to commit to realism before it can use the aesthetics of realism. You can't really jam it in to Soul Calibur, you have to change the core game into something like Bushido Blade which is a totally different game. Otherwise there's no way to realistically explain away how your fighters are getting stabbed all the time in every battle and surviving it. Likewise, a "tactics" RPG has to become more like Jagged Alliance 2 before it can approach realism.

Where the problem seems to lie (IMO) is games not really having a good sense whether they want to commit to realism as a style, or a more abstract gamish style (with numbers and indicators and whatnot). When there's confusion over what the style should be, you get games like Oblivion where the world is both somewhat realistic but also awkwardly forced/artificial in several of its aspects.

I completely disagree with the author's focus on realism. Ultimately, for me at least, the game is simply numbers. An RPG could disguise its mechanics as armies clashing, as adventurers fighting off enemies, as a sport, as gladiatorial arenas, as business, or as space combat. The important part is not that the mechanics match the metaphor but that the mechanics in and of themselves make for compelling strategic decisions. I don't care if the turn-based model is unrealistic; what I do care is whether or not choosing to attack with a fire spell or a sword gives me meaningful strategic options. This applies to the "lifebar" theory in fighting games as well: I don't care that it's not realistic when it creates entertaining gameplay. Ditto on what a previous poster said about weapon stats: I enjoy knowing precisely what an object does and appreciate full disclosure on the battle system's mechanics. I may be an autistic dork, but I enjoy crunching the numbers to determine which option is more efficient. If the author is so concerned with mass market penetration, realism is the last thing to emphasize. The realistic flight sim's audience is even more niche than the standard console RPG's. I agree with the author on save points and fetch quests, though.

I see you are coming from the RPG genre perspective, and that makes me less surprised you want to remove the healthbar. There is rarely any point to thinking about the underlying gameplay in RPG's anymore. Even when the game offers enough depth in the command system the game is still too easy to bother thinking about it (like I said, I'm a pretty dissatisfied gamer). I guess I'd agree that the legacy of healthbars, xp points, damage stats, etc. is overly game-y for accomplishing what is always a simpler idea. I prefer to think of it in reverse though: These games could be more challenging to justify thinking at that level of abstraction.

Yeah, RPGs tend to be too easy nowadays, but there are ways to fix that. From player mods that make the game harder, to user-created content that's harder than the main quest, to gamesharking to degrade your character's stats, to voluntary restrictions put on your options (my favorite being low-level challenges, which put a cap on the levels you can gain from random battles at certain points in the game. Once you reach that level, you have to flee the battles), there are a lot of ways to make the game challenging enough to make that mastery mean more. And once you do, the true design genius of games like Final Fantasy X and Pokemon become clear.

A note on leveling: I personally enjoy leveling when there is a marked difference in tactics between levels. This adds variety to the game. Getting hastega in FFX markedly changes your battle strategy; picking up fireball at level 5 in D&D changes the gameplay decisions quite profoundly. If you just get more of better though, it's just lazy and not very fun aside from "yay, I can deal 1000 damage now!"

Gearoid Ready:
But the problem I have now is where developers are spending so much effort to create a world that looks, to all extents and purposes, real - but are still using the SAME artificial limitations as they used in games that had no pretense to reality whatsoever. This creates a very strange dichotomy between the expression of reality and the game. Wickedshot's 'conflictual information' was a great way to put it. It's like when you a read a poorly-written book, where the character makes decisions that no real person would make - it suspends your belief in the world that is trying to be created, sucks you right out of it, thus making all the effort to create an immersive, realistic world a complete waste.

This I can agree with. It seems to me that they are operating at cross-purposes, and personally, I wouldn't mind if they scaled back the realistic graphics and focused on the abstractions more.

Gearois Ready:
The other thing about stats is that they make things too definite. The great thing about, shall we say, boxing in real life is that even though all the odds (or the stats) may be against them, in any given fight the underdog always has a chance. Stats take away this element of chance (of course, there's usually a 'lucky hit' element in most games, but even with this the beginning player will never, ever beat the final boss). In a real-life fight, I don't know if my punch is going to cause 50 HP of damage, or how much protection my trainers will really provide.

Here I must disagree. A modicrum of chance involved dispatches with the definite argument, and moreover, the introduction of chance can be a powerful strategic tool. I enjoy being able to quantify chance and match it up against probably outcomes. Do I go with an attack that has a 50% chance of doing 50 damage or a 100% chance of 30 damage? That's an obvious choice in favor of the latter, but what if my enemy is down to 49 health: do I go for the immediate KO or play it safe for the guaranteed two-turn KO?

Thanks. You've articulated my preference of visible stats in a much better way than I'd have liked to.

If you consider entertainment software, there's a mostly one-dimensional continuum between "game" and "simulation." The more information you have, I think, the more toward "game" it is, whereas the greater the realism, the more of a "simulation." The value of simulation is in the exploration of an idea or a different setting, whereas a game's entertainment value is simpler and arguably more pure, since it's not tied down to the player's external knowledge.

The industry can only be mature when there's a wide offering of both styles of design. To the extent that the article is advocating a broad shift toward more "simulation"-end entertainment, I disagree, but to the extent that it advocates taking "game"-like elements out of simulations touted as "realistic," then I agree completely.

I agree with most of the things you have said. I've often been puzzled by how the leader is also the strongest. Isn't the leader supposed to be the smartest? When did the leader decide "Hey, somebody might eventually kill off all of my soldiers so I better weight lift, get a gigantic gun and take enough crack cocaine to block out pain completely!"

And I am also plagued with the indestructible wooden doors. It's even worse when you can destroy some doors and not others (like in Stranglehold, destroy anything you want... except for the doors).

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