Thursday, April 9, 2015

Maybe I don't make sense

There is a point, somewhere in the depths of Eve Online, where the game is a science fiction universe born out of creativity and imagination. 

I like science fiction. I also like fantasy. In general, I enjoy taking the rules and turning them upside down. I love epics that recreate history and I enjoy new worlds where they play a balance between fiction and science using science and the general aspects of the unknown. I have times when I have to suspend my knowledge to accept older fantasy. Such is the case with "In Conquest Born" where they have a fertility problem. These days you'd just use surrogate and do DNA tests to make sure that people are pure of blood, but the book was written in the late eighties and there are allowances that must be made.

When I first logged into Eve I logged into a new world. I'd need to learn about it. What and where things were. Who people defined themselves as. A part of my mind was automatically assigned to the task of learning the game and learning the game was not just about technical things such as how to move my ship and firing guns. Learning the game was learning names and spaces. It is mispronouncing system names like I'm paid to do so. Now, I can discuss things with such comprehensive ease that I have to back up and make sure that I write them out in a way that someone not as familiar with the information could maintain a basic understanding.

But for some reason, "making sense" is the fall back argument for many, many things in Eve. From the first round of tiericide to suggestions on removing racial fuel types and general homogenization. It doesn't "make sense" is used. And, when I hear that I just stare. Not much makes sense. My avatar is an overly attractive immortal that submerged in a organic fluid that supports her metabolic functions as she interfaces with a spaceship as large as a city to run off and shot pirates in a place far from the birth of her origin species in space and time. 

It is also used as a catch all for design decisions and game play that feels cumbersome and sub optimal. Yes, there are four racial fuel types. How does it not make sense? If I go to the gas station I have four fuel types of choose from. Does it not make sense because it involves having to make choices and move more things? Would a single type make things easier? Sure, but does it make it more sensible?

It's a thinner line then it seems. It is one of those wandering paths that leads wherever you take it. At the end of the day the game doesn't make sense. For some, spending their evening playing a game doesn't make sense. And it can expand out into infinity... but really we're rolling it back up into how ti relates to Eve.

To go back to the fuel example. An Amarr tower takes Amarr fuel blocks. That is understandable. If you tell someone unfamiliar with the mechanic they may not know what an Amarr but the relationship is easy to make. Now, An Amarr jump capable ship requires helium isotopes. That isn't directly intuitive but all Amarr jump capable ships require helium isotopes. Okay, there is a pattern that one can follow, learn, and understand. I don't need to know why. I don't need to understand what about jump technology means that they need isotopes. Nor would changing them from isotopes to gasoline cause jump fuel to 'make more sense'. In fact, we'd argue about gasoline vs petrol.

Of course, most things become understandable after a while. Missile names for instance are known by missile users. They are still a mystery to me. I understand the damage types through the colors. But, if I were to decide to use missiles I'd understand what missile did what without them needing them be toned down to thermal heavy missile. That's where I feel we sometimes get tied up in the argument of what does and does not make sense. Do we base things off of common, current vernacular of our day to day lives or do we use pattern recognition and consistency? How much does a fictional world come into play?

Maybe, I am to much the dreamer willing to sink into what is and work with it. I love the fictional aspects of the game. I didn't think that was odd but of late I've started to wonder if it is. Perhaps, fictional tastes have deviated and I've not caught up. It may just be that I'm still caught in my father's stacks of paperback novels from the 50s and 60s.

18 comments:

  1. Doesn't matter if it makes sense. To go back to your missile example, in the real world the same basic type of missile can have 30 different completely unconnected names depending on who built it and it's specific role.

    Or, to give a more concrete example of things not making sense. Think of cars. Ford sells the same car in dozens of markets. Physically it's the same thing minus a few trim pieces and steering wheel placement. But the name of the car? They've several. Which doesn't make sense for an outside observer, but there is a reason for it. The most famous of which was the Chevy Nova, they took a massive loss on it because No Va means No Run in those markets.

    All the stuff makes sense in reality if you add enough context. I just always assume when I run into stuff like this in Eve that there's a backstory reason and I don't have enough information to know why it is. One day the devs may tell me, that has happened before. Or, they may change the entire mechanic and it'll be another bit of useless trivia floating around in my brain like the largest bulk export of Haiti is copper ore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Err.. I flubbed the Nova bit.. In spanish No Va can be translated as No Run. They took a bath in spanish speaking markets when they introduced it there.

      Delete
  2. This might be a semantics argument from me but I feel like you are using "makes sense" to mean realistic rather than intuitive. The idea being that game design decisions should make sense based on real world experience. You then go on to point out that this doesn't hold true in many instances because EVE is set in a sci-fi universe (which is true of course). However, I would say that game design decision should change mechanics to "make sense" in that they should be intuitive. They don't need to be realistic, they just need to be easily picked up by a new player.

    The jump fuel is a nice example where the jumping part doesn't exactly have a real world comparison but the fuel situation does. However, when undocking a jump capable ship there are no obvious indicators that fuel is required to make a jump or how much fuel you actually have unless you were to look at the fuel bay in the inventory window. In addition, the fuel bay on each ship can actually hold any type of isotope. The only way to know which one is to read the ship description. So although the fuel requirement might "make sense" it isn't very intuitive. To make it more intuitive one step would be to name the fuel bay "Hydrogen Isotope Bay" or something to that effect and to warn the pilot upon undocking if their fuel bay is empty. In addition it would be useful to have some indictor on the UI while undocked to show how much fuel is in the bay. This could be taken even further to indicate total range available. Small additions like these to direct the user without telling them step by step exactly what to do could be added to many areas of the game to make it more intuitive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And if I may, I think you are arguing for EVE to be more intuitive, like real life... like fuels. Like fuels?? really? My car (jeep actually) does not 'tell' me what gas it needs... and as for warning me about fuel, while it does have an idiot light that tells me I'm gonna run out in something like 50 miles... but it does not, and cannot, tell me when I pull out of my driveway that I don't have enough gas to make it to the beach...

      EVE is complex... sometimes seemingly stoopidly so... so what? I don't know about anyone else but RL is not intuitive AT ALL. If it weren't for my parents and family and teachers and professors and mentors at work I, and you, would never have been able to figure ANY thing out on our own.

      No, EVE is a virtuality... a complex, hairy, crazy verse in so many way just like RL... and I love it just that way and for that very reason. Making EVE 'intuitive' for the slowest kid in the class just dumbs it down for all of us, and in the end it also makes it far less deep and immersive too...

      A few examples I can offer... This and This.

      Delete
    2. Of course it’s a ‘semantics argument’, but not an empty one. Sugar, much like you, are trying to figure out what people mean when they deploy, ‘makes sense’ and, presumably, those deployers believe they’re doing more than mere semantics. Accordingly, when ‘makes sense’ (or a variation of it) gets deployed it can be useful to try and disentangle the puzzle presented. When defining vague terms, I often find it helpful to examine what the terms are not. So, to use your terminology . . .

      ‘Intuitive’ probably means ‘not cumbersome’. Accordingly, ‘intuitive’ things are straightforward. They make obvious sense. Only the pedantic argue for a more cumbersome Eve. (Sadly, Eve has a lot of pedantic players.)

      ‘Realistic’ probably means ‘not absurd’. Now in a game with fluid dynamic space movement, faster than light travel, technology induced immortality and planets that don’t orbit stars it may seem silly to even begin thinking about what ‘not absurd’ is trying to get at. Nonetheless, there is a terribly important point hidden away in the term. In a space world such as ours, I’m often amazed at what breaks immersion for someone. To use an example from a few years back, Pend Insurance used to payout on Concord destroyed (i.e. suicide ganking) ships and more than one thread opened up on the forums proclaiming that that was just absurd as no insurance company would make such payouts and stay in business. As one would expect, such posters were roundly criticized for confusing a game mechanic with real life economics but it’s important to realize that for many players and CCP too* Eve is approached as an economic simulator meaning economic based ‘that’s absurd’ arguments just may have some merit. Generally speaking, immersion busting game mechanics are bad as they throw the player out of the game. One minute you’re playing an intriguing game, the next your hauling back to mutter, “Well that’s just absurd!” Finding the correct balance between satisfactory suspension of disbelief, sufficient detail and immersion busting can be challenging.**


      *Cool!!! Footnotes. CCP even used to employ a full time economist. I miss Dr. Eyoj.

      **And more footnotes! As chance would have it, Tur popped his comment in while I was working on mine giving me a chance to elaborate on how difficult this is to balance. Tur, as he often does, argues that Eve shouldn’t be ‘dumbed down’. Similar to above, I find myself in the position of trying to discern what ‘dumbed down’ means. I’m pretty confident (or at least hopeful) that Tur doesn’t mean that Eve should be obscurely unintelligible. (Who wants to play an unintelligible game?) Rather, I believe that Tur means Eve shouldn’t be simple. (Tic-Tac-Toe already exists.) Again, for me at least, exploring what a term is not (not unintelligible, not simple) helps get at what a term is meant to point at.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. Dire you are the yin to my yang... and yes, you hit it EGGZZACTLY...

      I do not mean that Eve should be obscurely unintelligible (IE so complex it loses the ability to be fun to play). I just rail against the potential degradation of EVE's incredible breadth and depth that small nerfs to engaging complexity can bring.

      The basic problem to 'making sense', and 'intuitive gameplay' or 'intuitive mechanics' or even terms such as 'broken mechanics' or 'broken gameplay' is, as I see it the hugely variable and highly subjective personal definitions of "fascinating intricacy" as compared to the hugely variable and highly subjective personal definitions of "needless complexity" in our playerbase and in gaming as a whole...

      Remember... one man’s needless complexity is another man’s fascinating intricacy.

      And if I may add these to this...
      "EvE is a Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma..."
      and on a similar if not exactly the same note...
      "Too Much Talk Talk, Not Enough OMFG…"

      In other words, yeah, to me Eve shouldn’t ever ever be 'simple'.

      Delete
    5. @Tur

      Does your car also have a gauge which shows by percentage how full your "fuel bay" is? I think that's more along the lines of what Bizar was suggesting.

      Delete
  3. It's a hard balance to strike but in the past after a week of using a fitting tool it becomes second nature. While forcing people to install a 3rd party app to get to grips with the game was a bit much but hopefully the new Ghost thing will have much the same effect and the RP types get to keep their pretty, obtuse conventions.

    Whether that's enough for newbros? Hum, dunno.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've always rather liked the missile names. Mjolnir - electromagnetic - named for the hammer of Stormy Thor the Thunderer. Inferno. Scourge - so biblical. Nova.

    Someone was really dreaming about explosions when they named them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I miss my Thorn rockets...

      Delete
  5. Designing things to make sense can be a hard and unthankful task. Take missiles, for example: Some people have an easier time remembering a simple color code, other people instead remember names easier. So in my case, I can easily remember which missile name is which damage type because the names are simple and short. If you asked me before today what color is what missile, I would have drawn a blank. It's not that I don't know them, they just don't really register with me.

    Changing the colors would trip up everyone remembering the colors they have now and changing the name would trip up everyone using the names in their head. If CCP hadn't for some reason gone against their normal way and created an astonishingly easy to understand naming and color scheme, every change made today would annoy a lot of older players.

    Coincidentally, the more module tiericide moves forward, the more interesting things will be. :V

    ReplyDelete
  6. If you go up one level, it's generally both intuitive and realistic that when you are new to a particular skill, there are usages and terms that seem alien and arbitrary to you not because they are, but because you're not familiar with them.

    All it indicates that the skill you're being introduced to isn't utterly trivial.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This, this and THIS... I, as so many here do, work in the field of computers and I have for over 17 years... there are many things that 'to me now' are 'intuitive' in computers... but if you stop and really think about it NOTHING in computers is intuitive at all... it is ALL learned responses and learned patters that I have come to think of as intuitive because of years of effort and hence I am now so familiar with them...

      Take a PC or a iPhone back 50 years and the people then would be absolutely amazed but they would also have some inkling of the possibility of such devices...

      Take a PC or an iPhone back 200 years and you would be burned at the stake as a witch.

      What is "Intuitive" is highly subjective... but 'skills' are learned over time and oft with great effort and cost... and those skills have real value based on the time and effort... the cost... to learn them.

      There is a direct correlation in this and that is the basis of the Learning Cliff and the pride so many vets take in the time and effort they have put into EVE... cause EVE ain't Easy... and it never should be.

      Delete
  7. In all game design, there are two competing factors: playablity and realism.

    It's been an age-old tug of war and was easier to see and affect in the old board war games of the 70s and 80s (and the new ones being made today). Many of those games were based o historical events - the Battle of El Alamein, Rome vs Carthage, WWII - so they had a built-in :makes sense" meter and everything that went into the design of those games had to be grounded in "making sense".

    There was an internal consistency to the underlying premise of those games (i.e. lore), with the historical games being so much easier to keep the lore straight and therefore the universe elements better tied together. Having a solid base of universe elements makes it easier to design game mechanics; what stats does that armoured division have, what effects do pikemen have against cavalry, etc.

    But when the nitty-gritty are being designed, there's always those warring ideals of playability and realism. Does the game designer want an Axis and Allies feel or does he want something much more detailed? There have been board games where one factor so outweighed the other that the game was laughable. One one end, we have Risk, and on the other, a wargame made in the late 70s/early 80s that took longer to play than the conflict it was simulating.

    Wrapped up in all this is the requirement for relative balance. Not all war games need to be perfectly balanced, but they do need to be balanced enough so that both/all sides have fun playing the game. This sometimes requires the addition of mechanics that have no basis in reality/lore in order to try to keep balance as playtesting reveals that certain mechanics have flaws. In one of the better WWII games from the 70s/80s, the designer had to give one side a unit type that did not historically exist in order to keep overall balance. In that game, a WWII game, in order to prevent the Russians fro collapsing too quickly, the designer gave the Russians the ability to produce brigades of anti-tank guns in numbers the Russians never even contemplated. Their effect was to make German armour attacking them lose half their attack strength. The existence of those units didn't really make sense as far as historical accuracy went, but the need for them did, as well as the effect they had (anti-tank guns reducing tank effectiveness).

    So when people ask that a new game mechanic in EVE make sense or complain that an existing one doesn't make sense, they could be talking about any or all of these factors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OMG... I still have ALL my Avalon Hill board games... D-Day, Battle of the Bulge, Afrika Corps... man I loved Afrika Corps!! Desert tank warfare at it's heyday!

      I once played a game of BotB that ran a few days over 3 months from opening move to der tag... and the actual BotB ran from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945... so man do I know what you mean!

      Gods above I miss playing them so much.

      Delete
    2. I have most of my games, still, Tur. A few have fallen victim to floods over the years, but yeah. I soooo loved playing those games. Still drag them out now and then solitaire, but yeah, I miss pushing chits.

      Delete