Parallel development
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 October 2012, 2:33 am
This weekend I finished my first game of XCOM. And I couldn't help but notice that way before the end I had reached a tipping point: Suddenly I had enough money for everything, and some of the battles became rather easy due to the experience and gear of my soldiers. Basically XCOM is a game of parallel development: You get stronger, and the aliens get stronger in parallel. The side who gets stronger the fastest ultimately wins. But as the challenge of the game depends on the difference in stats between the aliens and you, if you develop faster than the aliens then at some point the challenge diminishes.

Games that are solely based on skill don't have that problem so much. If you have a jump & run game in which every level is a bit harder than the previous one, you just have to repeat each level until you master it, and the next will be a challenge again. There isn't a risk that you suddenly outgear the challenge.

MMORPGs have a strong gear component, and thus challenge depends very much on your gear. Leveling up a new character, like a pandaren monk, is already not very difficult. But gear him up with heirlooms, and everything becomes trivial and advancement is crazy fast. I've been running the Brewfest and Halloween single-boss event dungeons a lot lately, and there was a huge difference in performance between a group with level 89 characters in quest greens and a group with level 90 characters in heroics gear.

In World of Warcraft the enemy tends to develop very slowly: More challenging dungeons are only added rarely to the game, and the dungeons that exist don't get harder (and are sometimes nerfed). But both the average gear level and the average experience with any specific dungeon of a group of random players goes up over time. I feel that in the last expansion I tried heroics "too early", before the other players were sufficiently geared and experiences to make heroic runs easy enough. World of Warcraft still lacks a good feedback system for group content: The damage dealers never know that their output was insufficient to beat down the mobs fast enough; they don't see how that causes the healer to run out of mana. The only thing they see is everybody dying, and so everybody ends up blaming the healer. That led to a lot of unpleasantness which then made me quit the game.

Thus I am currently wondering whether I should already try to jump into heroics, or still wait a bit until the gear development of the player base reached the tipping point. Even if Blizzard doesn't change anything on the dungeons, they will get easier to PUG over time.
Tobold's Blog

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