Sunday, July 18, 2004

SWG: Storing Starships as Deeds

Since when was convenience the most important aspect of a multiplayer game?

Of course the game shouldn't require players to do something over and over that adds nothing to the game. That's just grinding, and grinding isn't fun. But just because the game doesn't make accessing some feature as easy as blinking doesn't automatically make it a grind. If there's some rational justification for slowing players down a little, then a bit of "inconvenience" is not only acceptable, it's necessary.

That said, I also don't think games need to be so complex in the name of "realism" that only a NASA astronaut with a doctorate in aeronautical engineering can play them. Realism is fine up until the point where you start including features that force players to do tedious tasks that don't advance a story.

In this case, on the one hand we have the game mechanism of storing an enormous starship as ones and zeroes in a datapad (even though that ship probably took tens of thousands of resources to build) because reusing the "deed" interface meant more programming time available for space combat features. And on the other hand we have the more realistic (both in physical and Star Wars terms) suggestion that our ship can only be in space or docked at an orbital space station, which would require us to shuttle up to a station to use our ship. It's not as realistic (again, either in real-world or Star Wars terms) as having instanced landing bays near starports, but it's still more realistic than stuffing a giant starship down your pants.

Are we really in that much of a hurry to be going-running-doing-killing that we're willing to accept a completely unrealistic game mechanic?

I'm not a SW continuity fanatic. If the developers of JtL add mass driver weapons -- even though no such weapon was ever described in the movies -- I could accept it, because it might be reasonably argued that such a weapon is a necessary feature in a space combat game. But the idea of putting an entire ship in a datapad goes too far. No such technology is ever even speculated about in SW; if it had been, Luke would never have needed Yoda to drag his X-wing out of the muck on Dagobah -- he'd have just called it up from his datapad when he got back to Dagobah Starport and zoomed away.

Time is only of the essence in multiplayer games if you believe that they're merely things to be beaten as quickly as possible. But what about the idea that these games aren't merely short-term goals to reach, but long-term journeys to experience? In which case, isn't experiencing the logic of the background story more important than gameplaying convenience?

Put me down for "inconvenience" on this one. The few minutes I spend shuttling someplace to get my ship is totally justifiable as long as it creates the feel of being in the Star Wars universe without being a major impediment to gameplay. I think achieving that kind of balance between story realism and game convenience ought to be what we expect from SWG's developers.