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An interesting trend that’s been prevalent during recent years is streamlining. As developers try to reach a broader audience they’re forced to dumb down certain aspects of the games to make them more accessible. In some cases these changes are good, and in some cases the changes are bad. It has in any case led to a great divide in gamers. The hardcore and the casual.

In years past, if you were a gamer, you were in some sense of the word hardcore. You might remember this as being the times before Counter-Strike when you kept it a secret that you were a gamer. Because if you let it be known, people would immediately associate your hobby with nerdy habits and anti-social behaviour. With the coming of Half-Life’s much enjoyed mod a lot of non-gamers were introduced to the scene, and thus began a long process of normalizing gaming as a past-time. While Counter-Strike was a fairly hardcore game in certain aspects, fairly soon the world would be introduced to something you could say lay in the middle between the hardcore and the casual (I’d say it was super casual, but there are players of the game who are indeed hardcore). Yes, you might have guessed it. WoW came.

WoW was an anomaly. While it offered the gamers an option to be hardcore, it was extremely streamlined. Everything was easy to learn, nothing was hard, everything was accessible. Hardcore in World of Warcraft didn’t mean you needed to be innately skilled, but rather having a decent computer and an endless hole filled with time. World of Warcraft slowly consumed the whole world. Turning everyone into a potential WoW nerd. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the impact of the game. I played for well over three years, sadly. I hated two thirds of that time, only playing because I had so many friends on the server, and of course not an awesome computer to play something better. But I digress.

WoW could be called a perfect game on thes basis of the impact it has had, but I don’t think that’s very close to the truth. I think WoW is a shitty game. In the end, the game was all about gear. You needed gear to have any chance of competing in pvp or pve. I recall when Season 3 in the arena was fairly fresh and I was doing the daily AV grind. A season 3 geared warrior came into the game and literally acted as a cannonball smashing his way through the Alliance. No one could kill him, he was after all kitted with the whole Brutal set. Does this make sense to anyone? Should gear be everything? This is at its core a discussion about gear vs skill in mmorpgs. But there are also parallels to be drawn in regards to streamlining. WoW chose to go with gear over skills, as opposed to skills vs. gear where a lot of balancing is required in classes. Classes which WoW had decided to streamline with the introduction of  Alliance shamen and Horde paladins (a change I did not take kindly!).

What’s being saved here is really your controller

While I thought WoW’s streamlining made the game dull, there was another game that came with a ton of good ideas, but didn’t quite nail the execution. Prince of Persia 4 was a game with ambition. It was intent on remedying the stale platforming of old. It wanted to do this by adding a character named Elika who had the power to save the heroic Prince if he fell. This mechanic meant that anytime you fell and and would have died in some abyss, you were returned to more or less the spot from where you had  leapt to whatever ledge or crevice you were trying to cross. Not without critique they implemented this in the game. I thought it was a swell idea. Because platforming is annoying. Say you get a checkpoint at the bottom of a tower. Your task is then to climb this tower doing several jumps to ledges, poles, drapes or whatever. And let’s say you die several times in this endeavor and then you die one more time right before you reach the top of the tower. What’s that feeling you’re feeling? Is it joy that you were close to achieving your goal? No, it’s frustration. To me the joy of platforming comes from timing the various jumps and grabs, not with restarting the whole process from the beginning again. Therefore I feel that the streamlining made in this part of Prince of Persia 4 was great. That’s not to say the game missed on other parts.

So, how do I feel about streamlining then? Well, it’s difficult to say. There are certainly elements of some games that could do with changes. But in the end, streamlining is only needed when there are mechanics that cause frustration or are just goddamned awful. I mean, there are complicated, “hardcore” games out there that are simply awesome. Although I only played it during a few trials, EVE is a great game. Despite of the fact that playing EVE is a little bit like being told to land a Boeing 747 without any help at all. So, when mechanics interfere with the joy of gaming, scrap them, when they don’t, keep ’em tricky.

/Erik

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One Comment

  1. I have a theory about wow. It’s that it’s not the streamlining or that it’s much easier than it was when it started. It’s just that it’s old and I would not be surprised if I have over 2/3 of a whole year of gametime spread over all characters and accounts.

    That is why it’s boring. The game itself really is ALOT better than when it came out even if I enjoyed vanilla alot more. I still remember the nerdscreams from the first time we downed Ragnaros or Onyxia. It was fucking epic. The burning crusade was also pretty fun but the only thing that came close to Ragnaros was downing Illidan. Now in wrath it’s just getting old.

    I still play though. But only pvp for a couple of hours a week. The arena is still a lot of fun.


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