Monday, October 21, 2013

How Senseless Things Continue

Richard Bartle made an very interesting post* on his blog concerning the Trinity in MMORPG design, how it doesn't make any sense in any true context, including that of desired game design- but rather came about as an artifact of limits- first of the game, and then the players.

The table-top world suffers greatly from the same type of evolution (or rather it's lack). D&D style Hit Points were a quick fix for the problem of players not wanting their characters to die- and we've (both table-top and then MMORPGs) have stuck with a nonsensical game mechanic ever since to the point where people will tie themselves into logical knots trying to justify them.

I long for the day when people will be willing to wipe the slate clean and reboot the hobby. That it hasn't happen isn't due to a lack of people offering other options- it's from the inertia of an hobby whose mainstream is completely uninterested in trying different approaches.

For the more open minded, we likely lost our best chance at it when WotC released the OGL ensuring that the core market will always be D&D. Now instead of waiting for D&D to die (something it's almost done at least twice now) leaving an opening for something new- we have to wait for the entire hobby to die.

In the meantime, we'll have to be happy with our own personal groups and homegrown rules- for they couldn't care less about the wider hobby because they don't need them. In that way, we have a huge advantage over the MMORPG world whose player base is still strongly tie to what companies are willing to produce.

*hat-tip to Vedron  over on Vedron's Potion for calling this to my attention.


Roeguard said...

Have you ever read "On Combat" and/or "On Killing"? They are probably the only academic texts on the psychology and physiology of combat, and well worth reading.

I mention it because the section on physiology discussed some recent evidence that shows that trained combatants are able "soak up bullets" -- ie fight (and survive) after taking large numbers of theoretically fatal wounds (like a hollow-point bullet to the heart). When I was reading it, I was shocked at how much that actually sounded like Hit Points.

I think one of the real problems with trying to create game systems that have verisimilitude is that we don't actually have that good of an understanding of what we are trying to simulate in the first place. As far as I can tell, those texts are some of the *only* modern academic texts, outside of some leaked FBI ballistic studies.

Gleichman said...

I've read those, and actually they don't support hit points at all. They do support not using death spirals.

Even your example (i.e. a fatal wound and continuing fighting) calls for a different mechanic completely- i.e. one that allows a 'dead' character a few more rounds of action. Then he *dies* without taking even one more hit.

This is a case of looking at *everything* with an eye to justifying something one has gotten use to in a game designed for nothing other than a game experience. And worse, using a game to back step into an incorrect model of reality.

Roeguard said...

I wasn't looking to justify HP as a mechanic, I was merely surprised at how well it fit -- I am used to thinking of HP as a total abstraction purely for gameplay purposes, and divorced entirely from reality. It doesn't mean there isn't a better fit, per se.

I'm pleased you've also read them. Great books! I suppose also relevant were the examples about persons who were only shot once, often somewhere non-lethal (lung for example), who then are immediately incapacitated and then die a couple hours later from a (relatively) minor wound.

The juxtaposition of how one experienced combatant can fight after sustaining multiple "fatal" injuries without any major instant impact and survive (the anecdote I am thinking of is the police officer who was ambushed coming home from dept softball game, shot in the heart, killed her assailants, and eventually survived after multiple declared "deaths" on the operating table), compared to civilians who die to comparatively trivial injuries, is interesting in that the only real difference between the two is essentially combat experience.

Personally, I think hit points jumped the shark a long time ago, around them time characters in certain games started achieving hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands of hit points. I can tolerate something like "wounds" mechanics, if done correctly, but those often involve death spirals, which are zero fun.

Gleichman said...

The real world contains all sorts of impossible events. Metal rods through the skull (and brain). Falls from tens of thousands of feet. People living through the experience of watching the Star War prequels...

We error however when we attempt to use such wild exceptions as the common case. As happy as I am for the officer of the example, many others just as well trained cease combat immediately and then died from a single gunshot.

I agree with you about death spirals. I don't see anything realistic about them, and they aren't fun either- making them the worse of all possible worlds.